The battle for 48 vacant seats in Burma parliament has officially begun, with teams from the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) pledging to bring improvements to healthcare systems in the country’s neglected rural regions.
Various canvassing groups have been formed by the NLD, which is competing in elections for the first time in more than two decades. In Pegu division, east of Rangoon, Myint Oo says the party will concentrate efforts on promoting development across healthcare, education and infrastructure.
“Road transportation in these areas is still very bad and there’s no electricity yet in their villages,” he told DVB from a village close to Thanutbin township. “Healthcare is almost non-existent and more and more children are leaving school before graduating the primary level every year.”
The NLD is fielding candidates in all 48 constituencies where seats are up for grabs following a government decision to reinstate the party, which was dissolved after it boycotted the November 2010 nationwide elections.
Party leader Aung San Suu Kyi will compete in the Rangoon division township of Kawhmu in the 1 April vote, where despite strong opposition from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), she is expected to win.
Following widespread criticism that the 2010 elections were a sham orchestrated by the then-ruling junta, the legitimacy of the coming by-elections will be closely scrutinised. US Senator John McCain, who is in Burma this week, will reportedly request to the government that international observers be allowed in to monitor.
The NLD has sent teams to a number of townships in Pegu division, where seats are available in six constituencies. Again, however, the USDP, which won 80 percent of the vote in November 2010, will try to block the road to parliament.
Already the government has unleashed a slew of reformist measures that many see as an attempt to convince western nations to drop sanctions. It may also have a knock-effect for the April vote, however, with a recent announcement that it would increase healthcare spending likely to appease some voters.
Myint Oo, who is competing for a seat in the lower house, thinks however that with NLD members in government, the tentative progress made in Burma in the past nine months could gain pace. “The government must further increase the national health budget, and we [NLD] need to make our voice heard on matters like this.”
How much influence the party will be able to wield in parliament remains to be seen, however, given the dominance of military officials and the army-backed USDP. There have been suggestions however that Suu Kyi, who remains hugely influential both within and outside Burma, could be appointed a cabinet seat.