Several political parties in Burma have reacted with frustration to the election commission’s decision to cancel by-elections this year, while others — notably the National League for Democracy (NLD) — shrugged off the polls as unnecessary and “a burden”.
Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) Chairman Aye Thar Aung slammed the Union Election Commission (UEC), saying it was “sowing confusion” among political parties by axing the by-elections, which were slated for November or December.
“First, they say they will hold by-elections, then they cancel them,” he told DVB on Sunday. “It seems to me that they are testing the political parties. It sows confusion, because we have already started planning and choosing candidates to contest the seats.”
The ALD chairman’s perspective was echoed by Ye Htun, a Shan Nationalities Democratic Party MP representing Thibaw Township, who said that although he accepted the decision to cancel the by-election, he believed the UEC had acted in an indecisive manner.
“I always thought they shouldn’t hold polls so close to the 2015 general election. We had a by-election in 2012, so we don’t need another so soon,” he said. “However, since they announced [in March] it would take place, they should stand by their decision. The Commission should not be so indecisive.”
Thirty-five seats remain vacant across both houses of parliament, as well as state and divisional assemblies. Most were vacated as MPs assumed alternate roles within the government; others because of deaths or resignations.
Speaking at Myanmar Peace Centre in Rangoon on Sunday, UEC Chairman Tin Aye announced that holding a by-election to contest just 35 seats was unnecessary for two reasons: first, with general elections slated for next year, it would be asking parties to finance and compete across the country in back-to-back elections, something many were unable to do. Second, he said, even if one party swept all or a majority of the seats in the by-election, it would not affect the overall make-up of parliament.
The NLD won 43 of 46 seats at the previous by-elections in April 2012 – elections which saw party leader Aung San Suu Kyi elected to parliament for the first time. However, its reaction to the cancellation of polling this time round was rather muted.
Nyan Win, an NLD central executive committee member who attended Sunday’s meeting, said that his party accepted the UEC’s decision.
“When the UEC originally announced the timeframe for by-elections, it did not take these [campaign] issues into account,” he told DVB. “Now the matter is pressing. Political parties believe the gap between elections is too close and the campaign rules are inconvenient. By cancelling, we feel there is less of a burden on us.”
Federal Union Party Vice-chairman Saw Than Myint said that everything the government does, including the cancellation of these by-elections, is based on the decision of the ruling party.
“I would say frankly that it all depends on what the ruling [Union Solidarity and Development Party] wants. If by-elections are in its interest, it will pressure the commission to hold them,” he said. “It’s all political opportunism. These are the tricks of the ruling party. They control everything.”
DVB spoke to several non-political players about the UEC announcement.
Maw Linn, the editor of Pyithu Khit Journal, said the reasons for cancelling the by-elections were as yet unclear.
“I can’t say clearly why the UEC did this,” he said. “First, they said no by-elections, then they scheduled them for the end of this year. Now they have cancelled them. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said in parliament that by-elections should be held, and at that time, the UEC was working towards that goal.
“Now they have cancelled the by-election. I think this shows they are not reflecting seriously enough on what is happening in the country. It seems they are trying to solve problems one by one. It’s difficult to say what really lies behind the decision-making.”
Ko Mya Aye, a member of the 88 Peace and Open Society civil society group, offered a disheartened response.
“I simply don’t know what to say. First, they [UEC] announce they will do something, then they don’t. I don’t know what they are doing,” he said. “I think they don’t have a clear policy on how to navigate the country in a straight direction. It is very difficult to see what they are trying to do.”
In its statement on Sunday, the UEC said it had consulted with “concerned individuals and organisations” before making its decision to cancel the by-elections.