ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Myanmar's Election Test

The polls later this year will be Myanmar's first true electoral challenge after the 1990 vote.

Later this year, Myanmar will hold parliamentary elections, the second since the country’s military made the decision to embrace political reforms. The 2010 elections were a flawed exercise. The junta so designed it to exclude the National League for Democracy (NLD) and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was then still under house arrest. The Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military, and the State Peace and Development Council through which it ruled the country, were marching to a carefully planned timetable of transition to civilian rule in which the generals would still play the predominant role. In a well-choreographed sequence of events, several top brass of the junta resigned from the military and launched a new party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which won a majority of the 664 seats in the bicameral Parliament. Separately, serving military officers entered Parliament unelected through a 25% quota. General Than Shwe, who headed the junta, then stepped down and handpicked his deputy Thein Sein, who had contested the elections as a civilian, to lead the new dispensation. He was elected President by the new Parliament.

Suu Kyi, who had been released after the elections, also took calibrated steps towards the new government. The next big milestone was a set of by-elections in 2012 that Suu Kyi and her party contested and swept, winning 43 of the 44 seats it contested, in a total of 46 seats. Even as these elections established overwhelming support for Suu Kyi, her participation in them gave the Thein Sein government and the process of reform the legitimacy it needed. But it is the 2015 elections, in which NLD will be pitted against USDP, that will be Suu Kyi’s and NLD’s first full electoral test after the 1990 contest, which her party won only to have its victory rudely usurped by the military.

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