The biggest lie in history or the 25th anniversary of 1990 election

Writer: 
Nay Tun Naing + Kyaw Zin Win + Aung Zaw Tun

The multi-party general election was held on May 27, 1990, and is approaching its 25th anniversary now.

But the promise of the '90 election has not been realised till today. The junta leaders promised before the election that they would hand over the state power to the winning party but they did not do so.

That deceived not only the winning candidates but also the 15 million people who went to polling stations. Such a cunning ploy had never been experienced in the country's history before.

"This is the act of abusing not only us but also the public," said David Hla Myint, an elected candidate of the '90 election from No 1 Ngaputaw Constituency, Ayeyawady Region. He was a member of National League for Democracy (NLD) back then.

Khun Htun Oo, also an elected candidate in the 1990 election from No 1 Hsipaw Constituency, Shan State, said that he was 'deceived'.

"Frankly we were deceived. They [junta leaders] broke the promise they gave when they didn't win the election," he recalled.

Khun Htun Oo is the chairperson of Shan National League for Democracy, the runner-up party which secured 23 seats in the '90 election after the NLD.

Khun Myint Htun, the chairperson of Pa'O National Liberation Organisation (PNLO), said: "The junta used various means to invalidate the result of the election as they didn’t want to transfer power."

Khun Myint Htun stood in the '90 election as an NLD candidate from No 1 Thaton Constituency and scored a seat. He was the youngest candidate to be elected at the age of 27 then.

He was imprisoned in 1996 and released in 2003. He is now the chairperson of PNLO that is trying to make ceasefire with the government.

"They didn't take responsibility for what they said. They broke their promise. Really, it is a shameful thing in the history of Myanmar," said Saw Naing Naing, another triumphed NLD candidate in the 1990 election from Pazuntaung Constituency.

Myanmar's election history

The country's first election was held in 1922 for the Diarchy Rule. The second time was to form the legislative parliament for the 91 Divisions Governance in 1935. They both cannot be compared with the 1990 election.

The general election was held in 1947, a year before the independence, to draft the constitution.

But those held in 1951, 1956 and 1960 were elections to select the members of the parliament by the people.

A military coup occurred in 1962 and there was no election till 1974. The election was held again in January 1974 to form the people's assembly and the people's council. Another election took place in 1978.

But those elections were held under the coup leader General Ne Win and were insincere.    

The junta leaders themselves changed plainclothes and entered politics. They always got elected and used any means necessary to win the elections.

Some suggest that the post-2010 political backdrops are not that different from that under General Ne Win's rule.

General Ne Win led the transformation of the Revolutionary Council into Myanmar Socialist Programme Party.

Myanmar had turned into the poorest nation in Asean from the richest. The country became economically bankrupt.

However, the reign of General Ne Win came to an end in 1988 thanks to the democracy revolution staged by the people.

The revolution was not successful though.

Another military coup occurred on September 18 the same year. General Saw Maung, Lieutenant General Than Shwe and Brigadier General Khin Nyunt were the coup leaders.

Starting from the day after the coup, they promised repeatedly to return the state power to people through elections. The election was eventually held on May 27, 1990, and the NLD and ethic parties scored a landslide victory.

Then, the ugliest election fraud of the history came to exist till its 25th anniversary.  

What is the promise of 1990 election?

The promise the 1990 election was simple: To give the state power to the party that won the election. The words came out right from the mouths of the coup leaders.

On September 19, 1988, the day after the coup, a meeting between the election commission and junta leaders was held.

Gen. Saw Maung, Lt-Gen. Than Shwe, Maj-Gen. Maung Maung Khin, Maj-Gen. Tin Htun, Maj-Gen. Sein Aung, Maj-Gen. Chit Swe, Brig-Gen. Khin Nyunt, Maj. Tin Oo attended the meeting and talked with Ba Htay, the chairperson of election commission; Aye Maung, the secretary, and other members, Saw Kyar Doe, San Maung, and Kyaw Nyunt.

Gen. Saw Maung requested to hold the multi-party, democratic general election as soon as possible and assured that the military would remain neutral.

The election commission law was passed on September 21, and the election working schedule was released on February 16, 1989.

The election law for the parliament was introduced on May 31, 1989.

The registration of political parties was opened from September 29, 1988, to February 28, 1989. Altogether 236 parties got registered.

On September 23, 1988, Gen. Saw Maung said in his letter to the State that they would not hold state power for long and would give it back to the people after the general election.

Gen. Saw Maung repeated this at the 44th ceremony of the Armed Forces Day on March 27, 1989.

"Our Tatmadaw's [Defense Services] second-most important duty is to restore law and order in the country and to hold the multi-party general election.

"…There will be a new government comprised of parliamentarians elected by the people after the election.

"We expect the new government to try its best for the sake of the people as it leads the country. As for the soldiers like us, we will return to the barracks and continue our major responsibilities I have mentioned now."

These words were publicly said by Gen. Saw Maung himself.

Again, there were some words delivered by him on July 5, 1989.

"…It won't happened that I ran things in my way while holding power. When the parliament is in place after the election, I will present the things I did to the parliament to prove that I did them methodically."

Gen. Saw Maung also gave comments about the transfer of power on January 9, 1990.

"We have spoken about the matter of State power. As soon as the election is held, form a government according to the law and then take power. An election has to be held to bring forth a new government. That is our responsibility. But the actual work of forming a legal government after the election is not the duty of the Tatmadaw. We are saying it very clearly and candidly right now.

"…We don't change our minds casually as we don’t want people to cast doubts on the Tatmadaw. The government represents people since it was elected by them. The Tatmadaw must remain under the government."

Gen. Saw Maung himself publicly said that.

After him, Lt-Gen. Than Shwe and Maj-Gen. Khin Nyunt – the leaders of State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – gave election promises as well.

How did they nullify the election vow?

The parliament was not called after the election as regulated by the election law imposed on May 31, 1989.

They continued holding power and said that the election was to amend the constitution, which was the act of breaking their promise.

Gen. Saw Maung mentioned the matters of constitution only a couple of times before the election. When he was notified about the constitution, he said that the election was precedence and refused to acknowledge the importance of the constitution.

But after the election, he said that the drafting of constitution was more important than the transfer of power.

The 1947 election was to form the national assembly and to draft the constitution.

The following elections were to form the people's parliament, whose basic principle was to transfer power to the winning party.

Junta leaders including Gen. Saw Maung breached their own election rule after the election.

"That was a multi-party and democratic election held specifically to form the people's parliament comprised of three branches of power: legislative, executive and judicial," said David Hla Myint.

Before the election, Gen. Saw Maung understated the matter of constitution, and said either of the 1947 and 1974 constitutions could be employed, or a new constitution could be drafted or an old one could also be used after some amendments.

But he changed the subject saying how the power could be transferred without constitution after the election.

"I met Gen. Saw Maung at the 1990 Independence Day gala. He said as usual: 'U Khun Htun Oo, I don't want to be the perpetrator in history. So this is your business. Use whatever you want: the 1947 constitution or 1974 constitution, or draft a new one.' But when the 1/90 Notification was issued, we were told that the election was supposed to draft a constitution not for the transfer of power," Khun Htun Oo told Weekly Eleven Journal in the interview made after his release from prison in 2012.   

“In his latest speech at an anniversary of Resistance Day, the SLORC chairman said what the elected MPs had to do was to adopt legislation, adding that power would be handed over to them,” said Saw Naing Naing. “He said so before he was forced to retire on grounds of so-called psychopathic disorder. The authorities held elections before the eyes of local and international communities, but ignored the election results. They did not call parliament. Instead, they arrested those winning election candidates trying to call parliament. Many elected parliamentary representatives and members of NLD Central Committee were arrested and imprisoned.”

Win Myint, who won the 1990 election for Danuphyu Constituency No.1, also said: “Under Section 3 of the 1990 Election Law (People’s Assembly Law), the authorities were responsible for calling parliament. They also promised in their speeches that parliament would be called. But they broke their promise and the law. Then the 1/90 Notification was issued saying the elected parliamentary representatives had responsibility to draft a constitution. Consequently, the MPs elected in the 1990 election were assigned duties to write a constitution, instead of attending the People’s Assembly.”

Win Myint representing NLD is also an MP, who won a parliamentary seat in the 2012 by-election for Pathein Township Constituency.

“This military junta’s rejection of the election results means insulting the public desire for democracy. I want to describe it as a black spot in our history,” said San San, who won the 1990 election for Seikkan Township Constituency. We had no opportunity to serve the public interest. We could not have brought democracy to the country to satisfy the voters. Such a case has never existed in the world.”

San San became an expatriate after trying to escape arrest. While living abroad, she served as chairperson of the Committee for Representing People’s Parliament (CRPP) and also belonged to the National Council of the Union of Burma.

The military leaders from SLORC not only ignored the 1990 election results but also breached the provisions of the 1/90 Notification issued on July 27, 1990.

Breach of 1/90 Notification

The 1/90 Notification signed by General Khin Nyunt clearly revealed that state power would not be transferred. It also said the military leaders would continue to hold the three branches of power—executive, judicial and legislative.

“Reluctant to hand over power, they did not call People’s Parliament or Assembly and instead outlined a national assembly. They forced the political parties into giving signatures in recognition of the 1/90 Notification. So our elected candidates were entrusted with the task to do legislation, instead of taking over power. They attempted to create a new constitution and election. This order was issued by General Khin Nyunt himself. Then the parliamentary representatives were arrested. The government showed no patience and imprisoned all the MPs who demanded to call parliament. They received long-term prison sentences,” said David Hla Myint.

The 1/90 Notification issued by the SLORC government was responded by the Gandhi Hall meeting of the elected parliamentary representatives from NLD.

The Gandhi Hall Declaration issued on July 28, 1990, was a blow to the SLORC government. The 13-point declaration mainly called for People’s Assembly in September 1990. It also stated that NLD had drafted a provisional constitution so that power could be handed over in accord with the law. The declaration demanded power handover in line with the provisional constitution and then charter discussion in parliament for public approval and acceptance.

Yet the government did not accept that. It argued that as per the 1/90 Notification, the election was meant for writing a constitution, rejecting the formation of government under the temporary constitution.

The notification however carried a clause which says “Under Section 3 of the People’s Assembly Election Law, parliament shall be formed with representatives elected from respective constituencies in accordance with this law. In line with this provision, SLORC shall arrange for calling and forming parliament.”

But this provision did not become a reality. The SLORC government called a national convention in 1993 to draft a constitution. The convention was attended by more than 700 delegates, among whom just over 100 out of 485 were those elected in the 1990 election. More than 600 delegates were handpicked by the government. Some MPs walked out of the national convention.

“They put the really active and enthusiastic MPs behind bars and held the national convention in 1993. The convention adopted basic principles to write a constitution. When the national convention was convened, the elected representatives were formed into a separate group. They also formed other groups of delegates. There were altogether eight groups, including the group of those elected MPs. So, the real stances of the MPs could not be shown during the convention,” commented David Hla Myint.

Khun Tun Oo said: “The national convention yielded nothing efficient with a passage of time. Our party and NLD walked out of the convention around 1995 and 1996. We boycotted it as we believe it would yield nothing for our ethnic groups while NLD walked out citing a lack of democratic standards.”

The national convention came to a halt in 1996. The SLORC government was renamed the SPDC. Although the name of government was changed, those in power remained unchanged. The 1990 election results and promises were sidelined.

In 2003 General Khin Nyunt adopted a seven-point political roadmap. Then the national convention resumed.

Khin Nyunt was detained in 2004 and the national convention was completed on September 3, 2007. A national referendum was held on May 29, 2008. Then the government declared that 92.48 percent of the 98.58 percent of voters supported the constitution.

“It was the longest national convention in the world to have a constitution. Finally, a law emerged hastily along with cyclone Nargis. It is the current constitution enacted in 2008. It is not democracy,” said Saw Naing Naing.

After the 2008 constitution was approved, general election took place in 2010. The ruling government led by President Thein Sein came into power in 2010 following the general election.

Studying the above points, firstly, the SLORC government broke its promise of the 1990 election to hand over state power. Secondly, it breached the provision included in the 1/90 Notification that formation of parliament shall be arranged.  

The worst thing it did was calling a national convention after arresting the elected MPs and politicians including NLD members. The 1990 election results were ignored to draft a constitution and hold another general election.

According to some sources available in 2005, at least fourteen elected MPs remained in prison till 2005 after they had been imprisoned since the post-1990 election. Moreover, at least 44 fled to foreign countries. Over 100 are no more alive.

In 1990, elected representatives, mostly from NLD were arrested on various charges and received short- and long-term prison sentences. They were also ill-treated so that they became politically demotivated.  

Unfulfilled public desire

The rejection of the 1990 election results had a great impact not only on the elected MPs but also on the entire public. The votes of the people were stolen and the people’s desire was unfulfilled.

“Talking about this beginning from 1988, the people burst into anger for a change. Then the 1990 results were seen, which was not easily achieved. The people cried out for a change. The real votes came from the people. But the government did not accept it,” said Nan Khin Htwe Myint.

She won the 1990 election representing Hpa-an Township Constituency. Currently, she is an MP from NLD, who won the 2012 by-election.

 “The people’s political decision and their desire for democracy were intentionally ignored. Now we could not have reached the goal of democracy,” said Saw Naing Naing.

 Aye Tha Aung, who served as secretary of CRPP, said: “The situation would not be like that if power was returned according to the 1990 election results. If that happened, elections have been held four or five times with the people and politicians getting democratic experiences. Moreover, I want to say that a constitution would have emerged based on federal democracy acceptable by the ethnic minorities. Our country would have developed more than now.”

The people’s desire for Myanmar’s political affairs has been ignored since a military coup in 1962. The rejection of the 1990 election results is the worst. For this, any authorities have not claimed responsibility.

In Ne Win’s era, the country was economically bankrupt. Those who inherited the ill legacy from Ne Win did as they liked by rejecting the 1990 election results. As a consequence, the country’s economy collapsed, lagging behind other Asean countries in development.



There are about five months left for Myanmar to hold the next general election this year. But any clear promises have not been in sight. In this context, if the promise is nullified like in the 1990 election,…

Reference: (1) Multi-party Democracy General Election Record by Myanmar Alin Aung Than, 1992; (2) The Record of Multi-party Democracy General Election held on May 27, 1990,  by Khin Kyaw Han, 2005; (3) Historical Records of CRPP by Khin Kyaw Han, 2003; (4) Myanmar Encyclopedia, 1991; and the publications of Working People’s Daily in 1989 and 1990.