The Irrawaddy

Parties Gear Up for November By-election

An official counts ballots in Yangon's Hlaing Tharyar Township on April 1, 2017. / The Irrawaddy

Myanmar’s political parties have begun preparing to contest a by-election slated for early November.

The Union Election Commission (UEC) announced Tuesday evening that it would hold the second by-election of the National League for Democracy-led government’s term on Nov. 3.

The election will fill 13 seats in the Union, state and regional parliaments currently vacant due to deaths and one resignation, according to UEC spokesperson U Myint Naing. These comprise four Lower House seats, one Upper House seat, seven seats in state and regional parliaments and the Shan ethnic affairs minister’s seat in Mandalay Region.

In April last year a by-election was held to fill 19 vacant seats. The NLD won a majority of these, followed by the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and the opposition Union Solidary and Development Party (USDP).

The vacant Lower House constituencies are in Kanpetlet of Chin State, Lechar of southern Shan State, Tamwe of Yangon Region and Myingyan of Mandalay Region.

The Upper House seat is for the No. 2 constituency in Myitkyina, Kachin State.

The vacant seats in state and regional parliaments are in Matupi 1 of Chin State, Rathedaung 2 of Rakhine State, Tamu 2 of Sagaing Region, Oktwin 1 of Bago Region, Thabeikkyin 1 of Mandalay Region, Minbu 2 of Magwe Region, and Seikkan of Yangon Region.

U Myint Naing told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday the UEC has been checking the voter lists in every vacant constituency since April 19 and had found “no difficulties” in constituencies in the conflict-ridden states of Shan and Rakhine.

Updated voter lists are expected to be published later this month, as the task began on April 19 and was scheduled to take five weeks, ending on May 23-24.

U Myint Naing said the UEC had informed the political parties of the date for the by-election and would announce the deadline for registering candidates in accordance with electoral procedures.

U Myo Nyunt, a spokesman for the ruling NLD, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that “the NLD would field candidates for all vacant seats as per its policy.”

“We have decided to contest every election, and we will accept the public’s choice. We are also prepared to make necessary changes based on the will of the public as expressed through the elections,” he said.

The NLD’s main rival is the opposition USDP, though in the minority ethnic states it is vying with the ethnic political parties based in those areas, the NLD spokesman added.

The SNLD will contest two seats: the Lower House seat in Lechar and the Shan ethnic affairs minister’s seat in Mandalay Region.

SNLD leaders told The Irrawaddy they are preparing to contest both seats and party members have already chosen a candidate for the Lechar constituency in Shan State.

“We don’t think we will face much of a challenge in Shan State, as we, the SNLD, won [the 2015 general election and April 2017 by-election] there, said Sai Leik, the SNLD spokesperson. “It is important that every party can contest freely and fairly in accordance with the current election laws and bylaws.”

He urged the government, political parties and civil society groups to engage in more public awareness activities to build interest in the elections.

The Arakan National Party plans to contest the vacant seat in Rakhine State.

There are more than 100 political parties registered with the UEC, with the major ones being the NLD, USDP and SNLD.

Observers believe that if the newly formed Four Eights People’s Party, which has yet to formally register with the UEC, has its registration approved soon, it could become a rival to the existing Burman-majority parties.

Zue Zue contributed to this report.