Myanmar's General Election
Sep. 25, 2015
The election campaign in Myanmar, which began on September 8th, is generating a lot of enthusiasm in the country and abroad. The November general election will be the first since the end of military rule and the introduction of democratic reforms.
The country had been under military rule for half a century. But since 2011, Myanmar has been undergoing drastic changes with the introduction of democratic and economic reforms.
Now, the people of Myanmar are preparing to take part in their first free general election in 25 years.
Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and the symbol of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement. She’s busy visiting not only her own constituents, but also those of other candidates. She says she is determined to work hard for the people in Myanmar, who are entrusting power in her party.
President Thein Sein of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has released a video stressing the reforms his party has introduced since the country’s transition to civilian rule, including greater freedom of the press.
Candidates of the USDP, which is backed mainly by members of the former military regime, are also busy on the campaign trail. One of them is businesswoman Zar Chyi Linn, who has been visiting homes door-to-door, calling for support.
She’s highlighting Thein Sein's reforms and said no other parties are capable of achieving economic growth and social stability. She says, "Our party stands behind its past slogan to make this a peaceful, democratic and advanced country. We will continue to follow this path if we receive a fresh mandate from the public."
With campaign vehicles noticeable on the streets of downtown Yangon, people’s interest in the election appears to be high.
The opposition NLD is running an aggressive campaign and is reported to have the edge. But the race has just begun and candidates from other parties are also hitting the campaign trail, determined to get their message out.
The upcoming free election has a special meaning for the people of Myanmar.
The country was under military rule for most of the years since it won its independence. The opposition NLD won the 1990 election with overwhelming support, but the military regime ignored the will of the public.
Over the years, the military government has consistently cracked down on the pro-democracy movement. Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest for a total of 15 years, including the period when the last general election was held in 2010.
Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD are hoping for a change of government. But they're facing a major challenge from the ruling party.
The USDP is tied to the former military government. Recent polls show the NLD leading, but a quarter of Myanmar's parliament seats automatically go to members of the military. The ruling party only needs to win a little over 30 percent of the remaining seats to stay in power.
Aung San Suu Kyi is fielding many new candidates from her support base among women and the young.
Zin Mar Aung is one of them. She's the founder of a women's group and seen as a possible successor to Aung San Suu Kyi.
During military rule, the then 22-year-old was arrested for leading the students' movement and held in solitary confinement for 11 years as a political prisoner.
Zin Mar Aung says it was her faith in democracy during those dark days that kept her alive. She says, "My body may have been in jail but not my soul. This is the thought that got me through. What I learned from Aung San Suu Kyi has encouraged and supported me as an activist."
She says the key issue for the upcoming election is whether Myanmar can completely discard the era of military rule. She believes it won't be easy to establish democracy in the country because the military regime will do all it can to hold on to power, but she says she believes it's the people who give legitimacy to the government.
It's been only four years since Myanmar made the transition to civilian rule, and the country’s democratic foundations remain fragile.
Aye Aye Win, a journalist in Myanmar, says that people in the country view the election as crucial because it's their last chance. He says that if they miss this opportunity to elect a genuine democratic government, he doesn't know how long it will take.
The democratic and economic reforms taking place in Myanmar are giving people hope for a brighter future. What's more, these reforms are creating greater acceptance for the country in the international community.
The question now is what shape the force for political change will take in the days following the general election.