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Ethnic parties suffer major losses in Myanmar polls

As final results inch closer, questions emerge over minority representation in new parliament
Ethnic parties suffer major losses in Myanmar polls

Men read a newspaper showing a picture of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon on Nov. 11. Suu Kyi's party is on the verge of a landslide election victory, while smaller parties have suffered major losses. (Photo by Romeo Gacad/AFP)

Published: November 11, 2015 10:15 AM GMT
Updated: November 10, 2015 11:06 PM GMT

Myanmar's ethnicity-based political parties, many of them representing Christian strongholds, have suffered major losses in national elections in the wake of what will likely be a landslide victory for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The country's election commission has confirmed results for roughly one-half of the available parliamentary seats up for grabs in the Nov. 8 election. Of these, Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has claimed 134 seats in the lower house and 77 upper house seats as of Nov. 11. There are 664 total seats in both houses of parliament, but one-quarter of them are reserved for the country's military.

Unexpectedly, only six ethnic parties have won seats so far, claiming just eight seats in the national parliament — a far lower total than many observers had predicted.

Paul Hawi Ying, a Catholic lawmaker from the Chin Progressive Party in Christian-majority Chin state, said his party suffered unexpected losses for most of the seats it was contesting. The winner in most cases, he said, was a candidate from the National League for Democracy.

"The NLD's slogan, time for change, has been spread across the country and we can't overcome it so we conceded defeat," Hawi Ying said.

Despite the losses, the success of Suu Kyi and her party was not a total disappointment. "We are happy about the NLD's landslide victory, as people show their desire for change," he said.

Still, there are major concerns about whether a Suu Kyi-led government will listen to ethnic voices across the wildly diverse country. Chin state, for example, is one of the country's most impoverished and remote areas.

"Why we contested the election is to help get ethnic rights, development and equality but our goal is not fulfilled," he said. "So we will wait and see if the NLD will take action rather than just make promises to ethnic people."

Traditionally, Myanmar's ethnic Bamar majority has dominated the political sphere. During the election campaign, however, Suu Kyi reached out to voters in ethnic areas like Kayah, Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states.

U Solomon, a Catholic politician from the All Nationals Democracy Party in Kayah state, said his party fielded 26 candidates for national and state parliaments, but has so far been shut out.

"We have much concern about how effectively the NLD-led government would implement a federal system that all ethnic people have been calling for," U Solomon said.

He told ucanews.com that Suu Kyi's campaign visit to the party's stronghold impacted voters who might normally have sided with his party.

At the same time, financial limitations meant that the party could barely compete with the relatively well-resourced National League for Democracy or the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which controlled parliament before the election.

 

Influence

Before the election, some observers speculated that smaller ethnic parties could play a key role in a future parliament dominated by Suu Kyi's party. Because of the military's influence in parliament, holding 25 percent of the seats, smaller parties still have some influence in a possible coalition or when new parliamentary committees elect the president in a vote expected in early 2016.

As the wins continue to pile up for Suu Kyi, however, expectations have been diminished among many of these smaller ethnicity-based parties.

"We contested the election to work for the development of ethnic people," said Khet Htaing Nan, a Christian lawmaker from the Unity and Democracy Party in Christian-majority Kachin state.

However, the party has picked up only a single seat in state parliament, and lost every seat it had been contesting for national parliament.

"There are still questions about whether the state parliament, which has fewer ethnic-based parties, will reflect the desire of people in ethnic areas," Khet Htaing Nan said.

While the election commission has not yet finalized the results of the Nov. 8 election, Suu Kyi has sent a letter to the current president, Thein Sein, the military's commander-in-chief and the house speaker, calling for national reconciliation talks.

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