Last but not least. That’s perhaps the best way to sum up the by-election for the Amyotha Hluttaw seat in northern Shan State, where the white tiger trumped the lion and golden pecking peacock by just a few thousand votes in a see-sawing contest.
Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) candidate U Sai San Min won with 47,226 votes – just 26 percent of all votes cast – about 1500 ahead of the National League for Democracy and 2600 in front of the Union Solidarity and Development Party. Smaller parties representing the Kokang and Lahu ethnic groups came in fourth and fifth respectively.
Amyotha Hluttaw Constituency 3 consists of five townships – Lashio, Mong Yai, Hseni, Tang Yan and Kunlong – with a total of 299,755 eligible voters. But this result was significant over and above the single upper house seat it represented, as it laid bare the political divisions that exist in modern Myanmar society.
The constituency includes 241 wards and villages and 358 polling stations and the NLD quickly moved ahead in the count on April 1 when results came in from an initial 57 polling stations.
“At present our NLD got 15,000 votes more than the USDP and the white tiger is in third. This is based on the data derived from Lashio urban wards. But this may change when statistics from some Lashio villages and Mong Yai, Hseni and Tang Yan arrive,” NLD candidate U Sai Myint Maung said on the evening of polling day.
While it was clear the race would go down to the wire, nobody expected just how tight the finish would be.
While the NLD carried the day in Lashio, the largest urban centre in northern Shan State, the USDP polled well in Kunlong, a garrison town home to many military personnel. However, it was the SNDP’s draw among the rural Shan communities of Mong Yai, Hseni and Tang Yan that was enough to get it over the line.
Residents said an SNDP pamphlet distributed the day before the vote has shifted the balance decisively in the party’s favour. “All nationals, including Bamar, living in the Mother Shan State please cast a vote for the White Tiger Party in gratitude to the Mother Shan State,” the pamphlet said.
U Tin Maung Swe, chairman of the Northern Shan State District Election Sub-commission told The Myanmar Times that the size of the constituency and poor infrastructure in rural areas meant vote counting took longer than in other areas.
“The reason the list of votes came in late is that many villages are away from town – some villages are even on the east bank of Thanlwin River. When counting ballots from urban areas of Lashio on the night of April 1, we couldn’t even guess who the winner would be. This is partly because the number of eligible voters in Lashio is the same as that of the remaining four townships in the constituency combined,” U Tin Maung Swe said.
The turnout of less than 60pc was attributed to low awareness of the election in the constitutency’s rural areas; in Tang Yan township barely half of the 70,000 eligible voters showed up on by-election day. “The same happened in the 2010 election. The reason may be that most of eligible voters there are farmers and some of them are not really aware of the by-election,” U Tin Maung Swe said.
He added that while voter turnout was only 59.59pc, down on 68.93pc in the 2010 election, the by-election had been “100pc fair”.
“This was the instruction from all different levels. I myself oversaw every polling station. The American ambassador who came here as an observer also said he was satisfied with the election and that the election was fair.”
Residents said that if the turnout had have been higher, the SNDP would likely have extended its winning margin over its rivals. Regardless of the fact barely 15pc of the electorate voted for him, U Sai San Min said he was delighted to take the place of Vice President Dr Sai Mauk Kham and become the SNDP’s 58th hluttaw representative.
“I am pleased that I am being allowed to solve the problems of our place, especially because Lashio has been without an Amyotha Hluttaw representative,” he told The Myanmar Times.
“On one side we were contesting against a giant party that had the weight of the world’s media behind it and on the other side we were contesting against the giant party that was in power so it was a fierce competition,” said SNDP vice chairman and Pyithu Hluttaw representative U Sai Hsaung Hsi. “But thanks to the wide participation of the public we deservedly got success in the end.”
– Translated by Thit Lwin