Another landslide predicted for ruling party . . .
Yesterday Myanmar held its second election since the end of military rule in 2015. The country joins a handful of others that have successfully held elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While COVID cases continue to average around 1,000 per day in Myanmar, voters wearing masks and protective gear turned out in large numbers across the country. Although vote counting is ongoing and official results have yet to be announced, sources within the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, predict it may win even more seats than it did in its landslide victory in 2015.
Army rejected, ethnic parties sidelined . . .
While the NLD’s victory is unsurprising, the party defied many observers’ expectations. Initial projections suggest it out-performed the military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party. It also took seats from opposition ethnic-based parties that were hoping to have their voices heard in parliament, even though some ethnic-based parties had merged and formed coalitions to improve their chances. Fears of a return to military rule prompted many to vote for the NLD, despite the party’s lacklustre record on constitutional reform and economic development. Restrictions on campaigning and access to information due to the pandemic may have contributed to disappointing results from ethnic parties.
A feat for democracy?
Local election monitoring group the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE) gave a positive assessment of how the election unfolded, even though some observers have questioned its fairness. Millions were disenfranchised by voting cancellations in conflict-ridden areas and discriminatory citizenship laws, and the electoral commission acted in partisan ways by defending the NLD’s decision to push ahead with the elections despite many opposition parties’ calls to consider a postponement due to the pandemic. While the NLD seems destined to win a parliamentary majority, its second term will be difficult. Constitutional reform and the peace process, two of the party’s big promises in 2015, have yet to see significant breakthroughs. And ethnic insurgencies remain a reality in many parts of the country, even as Myanmar faces allegations of genocide at the International Criminal Court. The country’s ethnic minorities are likely to feel more marginalized, threatened, and disillusioned as election results are confirmed.