NLD Says By-Election Losses Signal Need For Reform

By The Irrawaddy 4 November 2018

YANGON — The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) had to settle for modest success in Saturday’s by-election, suggesting the need for serious reforms, a party spokesman said.

Official results are not yet out. But NLD spokesman U Myo Nyunt told The Irrawaddy on Sunday that the party won seven of the 13 constituencies up for grabs and lost four it won in the 2015 general election, when it won nearly 80 percent of the races.

The party won the seven constituencies in Yangon, Mandalay, Bago and Magwe regions and Chin State. It lost three seats in Yangon, Kachin State and Sagaing Region to the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and another in Chin State to the local Chin National League for Democracy; the NLD won all four in 2015.

In Shan and Rakhine states, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy and an ethnic Rakhine independent won the races as predicted, as both constituencies are strongholds for ethnic minority parties.

The NLD’s U Myo Nyunt said the party’s poor campaigning and perceptions among minorities of the NLD as a party for the majority ethnic Bamar contributed to its losses in the six constituencies in Kachin, Chin, Rakhine and Shan states and Sagaing and Yangon regions (It was the Bamar-dominated USDP, however, that won in Kachin, where a local minority party is also popular).

While Saturday’s results will not impact the structure of the current government, they do suggest that the NLD can no longer take popular support for granted.

More than two years after taking power, and half way through its term, the NLD government, led by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has come under growing criticism for a lack of progress on economic reforms, backsliding on freedom of expression and generally falling short on its election promises, though it has received praise for its stepped-up fight against corruption.

U Myo Nyunt told The Irrawaddy that voters today want to see parties taking on and solving the challenges of their daily lives. He said people were frustrated with the government’s slow progress because there were some things the NLD could not do alone, such as amending the military-drafted Constitution.

When asked if the NLD would make changes to win back the public trust it has lost, the spokesman said the party’s senior leaders would have to meet to discuss any reforms.

“After the meetings we will be able to say what reforms should be done. We should think about it,” he said.

Yangon-based political commentator U Yan Myo Thein said Saturday’s results should induce some soul-searching within the NLD, as they clearly signaled the need to reform the way it runs the party and the government.

He said the party should review how well its lawmakers reach out to people disappointed with the government and struggling economically.

The commentator was not alone in pointing out the party’s problems.

U Zaw Myint Maung, the NLD’s second vice president and Mandalay Region’s chief minister, told local media on Saturday night that the by-election had shown him that his party needed to do better.

“It proves we have weaknesses,” he said.

Additional reporting by The Irrawaddy’s San Yamin Aung in Yangon and Htet Naig Zaw in Naypyitaw.