Sunday, August 20, 2017

‘This is a chance we cannot afford let slip’

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called on the international community yesterday to help ensure November polls bring “genuine political and governmental change” as campaigning officially kicked off.

NLD candidate Daw Khine Mar Htay places a campaign sticker with the image of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in front of a house in Hlaing township yesterday. Photo: AFPNLD candidate Daw Khine Mar Htay places a campaign sticker with the image of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in front of a house in Hlaing township yesterday. Photo: AFP

More than 30 million people will have the chance to vote – many for the first time in their lives – in the elections, the first nationwide poll contested by the National League for Democracy in a quarter of a century.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi hailed the November 8 vote as a “turning point” for Myanmar, which has been ruled by a quasi-civilian government since 2011.

“For the first time in decades, our people will have a real chance of bringing about real change. This is a chance that we cannot afford to let slip,” she said in an English-language video message released by the NLD.

But the election build-up has been dogged by concerns over error-riddled voter lists, restrictions on campaigning and the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of minority Muslims.

Whatever the outcome, the military will also retain its bloc of one quarter of all parliamentary seats.

The vote is for seats in the country’s legislature, with a president selected by the combined houses of parliament in the months after the vote.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is ineligible for the top political job because of a rule in the constitution that bars those with a foreign spouse or children – her sons are British.

The Nobel laureate urged the international community to monitor the elections and ensure that the people’s “will has been respected in the way of genuine political and governmental change”.

She also urged voters to think of future generations as they prepare to cast their ballots.

Ceremonies to mark the campaign launch were held at party offices across the country.

Near the NLD’s main office in Yangon, taxi driver U Htwe Han perused an array of party merchandise.

“If the election is fought honestly, I believe the NLD will win,” he said, reflecting a widely held view.

But observers believe strong participation from ethnic minority parties and rising Buddhist nationalism could dilute the NLD vote.

Some 90 political parties are contesting the polls. The NLD is fielding more than 1100 candidates across the country, slightly more than the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

The USDP won a majority in flawed 2010 elections, which were boycotted by the NLD and held while Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest.

She has said the party will choose a presidential candidate from within its ranks if it wins a majority in the vote.

The NLD won by a landslide in 1990 national polls, which were then ignored by the junta who clung on to power.

It later won almost all seats it contested in 2012 by-elections, resulting in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi entering parliament with some 40 party colleagues.

In a recent report, election monitors from the Carter Center warned that the country could be “volatile” after these elections, with the lack of reliable polling data combining with inflated expectations likely to leave many parties disappointed.