The right to election campaign and seeking the upper hand

(1)

The Union Election Commission (UEC) released three statements on July 8. The statements announce the upcoming election would take place on November 8, set the dates of registration and scrutinising candidates, and state that it had allowed the government officials to launch election campaign.

All of the contents of the announcement contain interesting factors, especially allowing the government officials to canvass for votes 60 days earlier than other political parties.

(2)

The UEC publicised the date 122 days before the election. Back in 1990, the date of the election was announced 180 days in advance.

The dates were announced 90 days earlier in 2010 election and in 2012 by-election.

Therefore it can be said that the UEC this time gave about one month more than they did in 2010 election and 2012 by-election.

Furthermore, the candidate registration period will last for 20 days and the scrutinising period is 10 days.

Both of the 2010 election and 2012 by-election gave the candidates 15 registration days and took five days to scrutinise them.

The times given between the announcement of the election date and the start of candidate registration are different.

In 2010 election, the election date was announced on August 11, and the registration period started on August 16. There were five days in between.

In 2012 by-election, the election date was announced on December 29, and the registration period started on January 16. There were 17 days in between.

This time the election date was announced on July 8, and the registration period will start on July 20, and that means only 12 days are given in the middle of the two events.



(3)

The 1990 election gave the candidates and parties plenty of time to prepare.

The date for the election which was going to happen on May 27, 1990, was declared on November 10, 1989, together with the candidate registration date. The parties had over six months to prepare.

The registration period lasted five days so did the scrutinising of candidates.

Although the registration and scrutinising periods are extended in the upcoming election, the candidates have only 12 days to prepare before the registration.

The parties have to get ready in 32 days (12 days before the registration plus 20 days of the registration period).

(4)

According to the website of the UEC, there are 86 registered political parties as of July 12.

The ethnic national parties count 52, exceeding the total of other parties.

A total of 93 parties ran for the 1990 election, and the candidates from 27 parties won the seats.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) had a landslide victory, winning 392 seats in the Parliament, and was followed by the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (21 seats) and the Rakhine League for Democracy (11 seats).

The National Unity Party secured only 10 seats, and most of the remaining 23 parties scored one seat each.

Altogether 37 parties and 82 independent candidates competed in the 2010 election. There were 3,059 candidates while NLD boycotted the election.

22 parties and six independents candidates made it to the Parliament.

Fifteen political parties and two independent candidates won parliamentary seats in both Upper and Lower Houses. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won most of the seats representing 882 in the three parliaments. The USDP won 259 seats in the Lower House accounting for 79.7 percent and 129 seats in the Upper House accounting for 76.8 percent. The other parties won few seats.

Sixteen parties including NLD competed in the 2012 by-election. The NLD won a landslide victory in the by-election filling all the 37 vacant constituencies for the Lower House. The parties won four out of the six vacant constituencies for the Upper House. The remaining two were filled by the USDP and Shan Nationalities Democratic Party respectively.

Moreover, the NLD won all the two seats in two regional parliaments.

After the 2012 by-election, the political parties’ position in the three parliaments was changed. The NLD represents 11.8 percent in the Lower House with the second most seats after the USDP.

However, no one could overpower the unelected 25 percent military representatives. All important motions, including constitutional amendment efforts, failed.

(5)

Aung San Suu Kyi told a press conference on July 11 that candidates from the NLD would run for the upcoming November election.

She also said she would seek understanding from the ethnic allies from the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament, which became important in the post-1990 election period. This is the signs of hope for forging the friendship between the NLD and ethnic groups like in 1990.

Meanwhile, the SNLD that won the second most seats in the 1990 election has announced that it will stand for the forthcoming election.

Another point we need to consider is two ethnic coalitions—the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) and Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF). Among them, the UNA is more influential and have a better chance of mutual-understanding with the NLD.

The ruling USDP and cabinet members are reportedly preparing to run for the second term. They hope for winning in Ayeyawady, Sagaing and Bago regions and Shan, Chin and Kayah states.

Ministers at the President’s Office Soe Thein and Aung Min tried to run for election in Shartaw and Balkhe, the military-controlled areas in Kayah State. But the USDP thwarted their attempt.  The government however does not seem to change their hope.

Chairman Tin Aye of the Union Election Commission, who has friendly relations with President Thein Sein, has given green light to the president and his cabinet members to campaign for election starting on July 8. Other political parties will only be allowed to begin the campaigns on September 8.

The ruling cabinet members have two more moths than political parties to launch election campaign in the constituencies they want to run for. This means that they have had the chance to gain the upper hand over the other contestants in a contest.

On July 12, President Thein Sein visited Kyauktan Township in Yangon Region, where Union minister Ohn Myint, close to the president, will reportedly run for election. It is doubtful whether they have tried to canvass for votes since the president himself and the union ministers attended a small event of opening a bridge.

It is also questionable who will claim responsibility if the Union ministers’ spending of money under the title of regional development is aimed at canvassing for votes. The media are keeping a watchful eye on them.

(6)

Before the 1990 election, the political parties had 90 days for election campaign. They had 80 days for the 2010 election and 40 days for the 2012 by-election.

For the 2015 election, the political parties have 60 days but the president and his cabinet members have 120 days.

In this regard, I have a question for the UEC. It is true that the right for government ministers to conduct election campaign is granted in accord with the Union Government Law. But the law is still under debate for amendment. The discussion topic is related to election campaign.

The Union Government Law stipulates that although the president and cabinet members are not allowed to engage in party activities, they have the right to canvass for votes. This is why the parliament wants to amend it to be in line with the constitution.

The main aim is to remove the word ‘party’. They have the right to canvass for votes but must not represent any party.

The amendment proposal was already approved by the Lower House. It is still under discussion in the Upper House.

Military MP Lt-Colonel Thein Lwin for the Upper House discussed his opposition to the amendment. He said the provision should remain as it is because he said the amendment would amount to restricting the law and contradict the constitution.

Before the discussion of the amendment bill is completed, the UEC has promptly allowed the cabinet members to canvass for votes in their respective regions.

It is doubtful whether the UEC is supporting the president and his government members to gain the upper hand before the election.

Anyhow, the government including the president has 60 more days than the political parties to officially canvass for votes.