- The 2020 Myanmar General Election:Another Turning Point?
According to the Constitution of Myanmar, a general election is to be held every five years in order to elect parliamentarians to the two legislative chambers, the lower house (Pyithu Hluttaw, or house of representative) and the upper house (Amyotha Hluttaw, or house of nationalities). Twenty-five per cent of the seats in both houses are reserved for military-appointed representatives. After parliamentary elections, the lower and upper houses will sit together in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Assembly of the Union) to serve as an electoral college for the presidential election.
The coming general election in 2020 will be an important milestone for Myanmar. The elections in 2010 brought about the "Myanmar Spring" under President Thein Sein, while the 2015 elections witnessed Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) coming to power. The 2015 general election marked the very first peaceful transfer of power from one elected government to another since the country gained independence from the British in 1948.1 The year 2015 was also the first time Aung San Suu Kyi and her party were able to form the government since winning the election in 1990.2
In the three years since assuming power, the NLD government has introduced reforms of the economy, banking and finance; implemented a crackdown on corruption; and initiated the 21st Century Panglong Conference, a new peace process aimed at settling the country's various ethnic insurgencies. However, these efforts have been overshadowed by an economic slowdown, the Rohingya [End Page 255] crisis and a lack of progress in the peace process. In particular, the failure of the reforms to translate into tangible benefits at the grass-roots level has led many people to feel that the NLD government has under-delivered on expectations.
The upcoming general election in 2020 will be the first electoral test for the NLD government. It will also be a judgement of Aung San Suu Kyi's leadership and legacy. Meanwhile, the opposition parties in Myanmar have sought to capitalize on voter dissatisfaction with the NLD's performance in government. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which lost power in the 2015 elections, has been reorganizing itself and replacing its old generation of party leaders, including former President Thein Sein. Ethnic-based parties have also sought to consolidate their electoral strength by merging into single parties in their respective states to avoid splitting their share of the vote, as happened in 2015. The following is an analysis of the plans and prospects of the different political parties for the 2020 elections.
National-Level Parties The National League for Democracy
The by-elections of 2017 and 2018 revealed the extent of voter dissatisfaction with the NLD. In the various by-elections in 2017, the NLD only managed to win 9 out of 18 seats. In the by-elections of 2018, it emerged victorious in only 7 out of 13 seats. In comparison, the NLD was able to win 43 out of 45 seats in the by-elections of 2012.3 Recognizing the recent by-election results as a warning sign, Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD leadership have pursued a reorganization of the party in preparation for the coming election.
Although the formal election campaign remains more than a year away,4 the NLD has already begun its unofficial campaign. Between February and August 2019, Aung San Suu Kyi has travelled fourteen times to visit twelve different states and regions. During her visits, Suu Kyi delivered speeches at public rallies, inaugurated infrastructure development projects, and conducted talk shows with youths, farmers and the local communities. The primary thrust of her message was that the NLD needed to secure another election victory in order to continue with its current reform programmes and to sustain the democratization process.
The NLD also started the constitutional amendment process on 6 February 2019. It did so despite objections from the military members of parliament (MPs), who hold enough seats in the Pyindaungsu Hluttaw to prevent the passage of the amendments.5 Stifled legislatively, the NLD instead took the opportunity to hold mass rallies across the country over the issue...