RANGOON — Rangoon’s historic municipal elections will see women constitute just over 10 percent of the 293 candidates competing in a poll that will be held on Dec. 27, for the first time in more than five decades.
Thirty-two female candidates will vie for some of the 115 total seats that the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) has opened up on committees at the divisional, district and township levels of Burma’s biggest city. Since a military coup in 1962, these 115 seats had been appointed by the country’s former military regimes.
While marking a notably more democratic approach to the city’s leadership structure, the elections will not bring a fully representative government to power: Five seats of the nine-member Divisional Municipal Committee—the decision-making body of YCDC—will still be appointed, including the mayoral post, which also acts as the committee’s chairmanship. Additionally, the municipal voter rolls will be limited to one vote per household.
Three women will contest the four seats up for grabs in the Divisional Municipal Committee, along with 35 male candidates. Five women will compete for 12 district-level seats and 24 women will compete for 99 township-level seats, according to the YCDC election commission.
“There has not been a woman on the YCDC committee in the past or currently,” said an official from YCDC’s engineering department, who requested not to be named.
The December election will result in an expansion of the Divisional Municipal Committee, which had previously been made up of only five appointed members. The poll will also usher in committees at the district and township levels that have not existed in the past.
Mae Ohn Nyunt Wai, 63, is one of those 32 pioneering women, competing for a seat on the nine-member Divisional Municipal Committee in Rangoon’s West District constituency. She said that although the female political aspirants represented an unprecedented advance for women, at just over 10 percent of the total candidates, she is not yet satisfied.
“I want 50 percent of women candidates to run in elections. There are a lot of women who are capable. But only 10 percent are running in this election,” she said, adding that the low figure may have been due to a lack of awareness among women about their right to compete for seats in the historically male-dominated YCDC leadership.
The country’s national Parliament does not fare much better than the municipal committee, with women currently accounting for about 5 percent of parliamentarians.
Mae Ohn Nyunt Wai said that in campaigning thus far, she has at times faced dismissive attitudes from voters and even some fellow candidates.
“Most men don’t want to pay attention when women try to speak. I found that while campaigning. They are not interested when a woman comes and speaks to them, so I need to take more time to get them to listen to my words,” she said.
Aye Min, also a candidate for the Divisional Municipal Committee, said women’s representatives within YCDC would produce better policy outcomes.
“Sometimes, the opinions of men and women are different. If we have different views in the committee, we can approach problems from varying angles and that can help to solve them,” he said.
Susanna Hla Hla Soe, also a candidate for the Divisional Municipal Committee and director of the Karen Women’s Action Group (KWAG), told The Irrawaddy that if women were to win YCDC committee seats, they could raise the profile of women’s issues such as how to better ensure a safe environment for the city’s women.