MYANMAR ELECTIONS 2015: ISSUES AND CONCERNS
ABOUT THE SEMINAR
Myanmar is in the midst of three challenging transitions started by the reform process initiated in 2011.
These challenges are in 1) negotiating a lasting end to the decades-long conflict; 2) transitioning to
democracy from decades of authoritarian rule; and 3) most importantly, opening up the economy with
diversified external partnerships.
A defining point on the trajectory of this process is the general election set for 8 November 2015, where
voters in more than 300 constituencies countrywide will cast their votes for the one thousand or so
seats in the upper and lower houses of Myanmar’s parliament (Hluttaw) and for the national or local
assemblies in the country’s 14 administrative states and regions. The seats up for grabs do not include
the 25% of the total of seats; these are occupied by serving military officers appointed by the
Commander-in-Chief. The November 8 election results will set the stage for a second election in
parliament in early 2016 which will choose the top three executive positions (President and two Vice-
Presidents). Thus, even with a parliamentary win, the main opposition party, the National League for
Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, will need at least two-thirds majority to counter the
military vote in choosing the next President. Under the current 2008 constitution, Daw Suu is not
eligible to be nominated or selected as such.
The 2015 general election is the first openly-contested election since 1990. Over 90 political parties are
competing for seats, but interest is focused on the two dominant large parties: the NLD and the
incumbent Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The NLD is tipped the most likely to win a
majority of seats in a country thirsty for change from military-dominant rule. Losses are predicted for
the ruling USDP, which is running on a “performance” platform. But the recent ousting of the Speaker
of Parliament Thura Shwe Mann from the USDP’s leadership indicates a determination on the part of
the incumbent to consolidate power bases. The USDP is now focused mainly on achieving a
nationwide ceasefire agreement with ethnic armed groups and start “political dialogue” towards
constitutional change. The other deliverable of economic growth and poverty reduction has largely
been urban-centric, and oriented towards attracting investments. The ambitious target of reducing the
country’s poverty rate to the regional (ASEAN) average of 16% by September 2015 now seems
The election campaign period started on August 8, amidst an atmosphere of anticipation. Myanmar’s
Union Election Commission has opened the election to international observers, some of whom are
already in the country to monitor the campaign. There is a widespread view that the 2015 election will
be freer and more credible than past elections (1990 and 2010), and hopes are high for a “genuinely
civilian government” that will carry through Myanmar’s political, administrative and economic transitions
successfully. However, observers and citizens alike are still hard-pressed to distinguish the nuances
and piece together the picture as a whole. This seminar will attempt to dissect the issues at stake, to
inform objective assessments on Myanmar’s future.
ABOUT THE SPEAKERS
Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing is a member of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council to president of
Myanmar; member of the Myanmar Peace Centre Secretariat; director of Myanmar Egress, an NGO
concerned with political change in the country; and former Associate Director of the Southeast Asia
Research Centre at City University of Hong Kong.
Mr Kyaw Zwa Moe is editor of the Irrawaddy magazine (English Edition). After spending eight years in
prison for publishing an underground newspaper critical of military rule, Kyaw Zwa became part of the
exile media based in Thailand, starting 2000. He joined the Irrawaddy, established since 1992 by his
brother Aung Zaw. Kyaw Zwa now heads the Yangon bureau of the Irrawaddy, as part of initial steps to
build up the Irrawaddy’s reporting presence in the country.
Dr Ma Thida is one of Myanmar’s leading public intellectuals. She is a medical doctor, a writer, a
human rights advocate and former prisoner of conscience who now has an important role in helping
societies and communities in Myanmar play a part in the current reform process. She founded Pen
Myanmar Centre in 2014, with a threefold mission to: conduct a media watch on issues related to
freedom of expression; organise public discussions about literature and develop a culture of literature
in Myanmar; and to make literature a part of the educational curriculum in the country, promoting
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