Boycotting 7 November: Being Principled Rather than Pragmatic

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is not playing this time around or ever it seems. The first election in Myanmar since 1990 but the NLD was disbanded in May this year because of its March decision to boycott the election. The NLD’s boycott was on principle as participating in the election would legitimise the junta. The specifics were that the elected government would be based on the 2008 constitution which allows the military veto rights and had exception laws based on security of the state. The latter is quite common actually in states but probably the NLD suspected that the military would use exercise such exceptions as the norm instead. After 20 years of junta rule, the NLD had an idea of how the military behaved.

Nobody should expect democracy overnight in Myanmar but in Myanmar’s context, the election is a glimmer of hope for the people and an experiment for the junta at holding on to power but yet not holding on to power. Theoretically a win-win for all at least as the first step. Nevertheless, while NLD would not contest, ex-NLD members who wanted to grab at a chance of making a difference rather than pouting and folding their arms formed the National Democratic Front (NDF). They are the party to watch as the Aung San Suu Kyi brand still lingers with them, although The Lady refused any compromise

The larger silent question is whether parties should participate in a flawed democracy and its election, or complain that it is a not "proper" election and constitution and skip it entirely. The Singapore similarity would be the infamous Barisan Socialis boycott of the 1968 elections which sealed Singapore’s fate. They and all Singapore probably had a chance to forge a different Singapore from the one we know now but it was chucked away because the opposition refused to take part in an election. Due to that boycott, the PAP completely owned Parliament all the way and made bad and good decisions without contest till the milestone 1981 Anson by-election. Also, after our election that is coming soon, would the opposition boycott any NCMP offers?

FACTBOX – Parties contesting Myanmar’s election
Tue, Oct 19 2010

REUTERS – A total of 37 political parties have been given the go-ahead to run in next month’s election in Myanmar for seats in the military-ruled country’s first civilian assemblies in nearly five decades.

However, few will field enough candidates to mount a significant challenge to two big parties seen as proxies for the junta, which is unlikely to cede real power.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which swept the last polls in 1990 but was never allowed to rule, has boycotted the election because of what it said were unfair rules. It was officially dissolved on Sept 14.

Below are details of the main parties running for seats in two national and 14 regional assemblies on Nov. 7.


With candidates in all 1,158 constituencies — for seats in the two houses of parliament and 14 regional assemblies — the USDP is almost assured of overall victory. It is seen as the political juggernaut of the junta, armed with a big war chest and packed with recently retired military men.

It is also backed by wealthy business interests, anxious to nurture political connections with a new government that could continue a recent privatisation campaign. Opponents claim it receives special privileges from the generals.

Prime Minister Thein Sein will lead the party, supported by at least 27 incumbent ministers who, like him, have swapped military fatigues for civilian clothes. The most prominent members are the junta’s third and fourth in command, Thura Shwe Man and Thihathura Tin Aung Myint Oo.


Another party seen as a military proxy, the NUP was backed by the generals in the 1990 polls but won only 10 of the 492 house seats. The junta simply ignored the result and carried on ruling.

The NUP will field candidates in 980 constituencies and is likely to fare better this time around, with a populist platform aimed at helping millions of impoverished farmers.

It is led by Tun Yi, a former deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The party was formerly known as the Myanmar Socialist Programme Party, created by late dictator Ne Win. It was the only party allowed to exist from 1964 to 1988.


The NDF is led by renegade members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy; the detained Nobel laureate sees them as insubordinate turncoats.

The NDF believes the NLD boycott was counter-productive and sees itself as the only real opposition to the junta’s proxies. Its popularity is hard to gauge. Anyway, it says restrictive campaign laws and a lack of time and money mean it will only contest 166 constituencies, just 14 percent of the seats.


The SNDP is the main party in Myanmar’s biggest state, a breakaway region bordering China where various armed ethnic groups have enjoyed de facto self-rule for decades.

The SNDP will run in 157 constituencies, mostly for seats in a state assembly. However, with disunity in Shan State, attempts to block campaigning, fears of an imminent offensive by government troops and balloting already scrapped in scores of villages, the SNDP is unlikely to have much impact.


The party was founded in 2005 and claims to have 150,000 members. It is led by Aye Lwin, a former student activist during a 1988 uprising that was brutally crushed by the military.

However, Aye Win’s pro-democracy credentials have been questioned. Opponents claim Aye Lwin has close ties to the junta and say his party, which will run in 51 constituencies, has received financial support from it.


Another party that ran in the 1990 polls and has long opposed military rule. It is pushing for a genuine democratic system free from cronyism and political or ethnic discrimination. Its leader, Thu Wai, is a veteran politician and former political prisoner. It will contest just 49 constituencies nationwide.


The second-largest of the 22 ethnic parties signed up for the polls, the RNDP will field candidates in 44 constituencies.


Another ethnic party, it was formed to serve Karen communities living outside Karen State, where there is conflict between the military and rebels.


Despite its activist-like title and a leader, Ye Tun, who was jailed for taking part in the 1988 protests against military rule, the party is widely believed to be close to the junta. It will contest just 38 constituencies.

(Compiled by Martin Petty; Editing by Alan Raybould)


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