Rangoon Elects Businessmen, Doctor as New City Leaders

By San Yamin Aung & Kyaw Phyo Tha 29 December 2014

RANGOON — About 2 percent of Rangoon’s populationtook to the polls on Saturday to determine who will manage Burma’s largest municipal area for the next 15 months.

Htay Aung, Aye Min, Khin Hlaing and Khin Maung Tint will assume four coveted seats on the nine-member Central Committee of the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), the highest municipal governing body. The committee’s remaining five members, including the mayor, are all appointed by the national government.

“I will do my best,” said Aye Min, a doctor who will represent Rangoon’s southern district. Of the other newly elected Central Committee members, Htay Aung and KhinHlaing are well-known businessmen, while KhinMaung Tint heads a family-owned concrete business. Aye Min said that because the majority of the Central Committee is government-appointed, “they will make the decisions, but we will ask.”

In the first citywide elections to be held in more than 60 years, 293 candidates vied for 115 seats at central, district and township levels of local governance. Winners of the remaining 111 seats on district and township committees were also announced at the YCDC Election Commission office in City Hall at around 2pm on Monday.

About 8 percent of Rangoon’s roughly 5 million residents were eligible to vote on Saturday, in an election that was limited to one vote per registered household. A dismal 26 percent turnout means that just 2 percent of the population is represented by the results. Restrictions on candidate and voter eligibility, stringent campaign rules and a lack of voter awareness were all cause for criticism in the weeks leading up to the vote.

Zin Min Hlaing, a member of the YCDC Election Commission, told The Irrawaddy that while he was aware of some dissatisfaction with the polling process, the commission “still hasn’t received any official complaints.” The prevailing sentiment among voters was a general lack of awareness about who candidates were and when polls would take place.

“I just found out about the election,” said Khin Khin Yi, a 43-year-old woman from Insein Township, speaking to The Irrawaddy outside of a polling station on Saturday. “I didn’t know about the collection of the voters’ list, did they do that?”

Khin Khin Yi said that “most of the neighborhood” was similarly unaware, knowing little or nothing about the candidates. The commission held a different view, claiming that information was readily available to voters. Zin Min Hlaing responded that the commission had made announcements in both state-run and private media, and that “it can’t be helped” if voters were not well enough informed.

Khin Hlaing, the winning candidate in Rangoon’s western district, said the controversy could be beneficial for future elections, with which Burma has little experience due to decades of military rule ending less than four years ago. By-elections scheduled for late this year—which were cancelled in September—were expected to serve as a practice round for general elections in late 2015.

“All elections have weaknesses,” said Khin Hlaing.“It’s good to have objections because it shows an increase in public interest. The commission will learn from this for the next time.”