Myanmar goes to the polls on Nov 8

Members of Myanmar's National League for Democracy checking voter lists in Mandalay.
Members of Myanmar's National League for Democracy checking voter lists in Mandalay.PHOTO: EPA

General election set to be the first contested by Suu Kyi's opposition NLD since 1990

YANGON • Myanmar officials yesterday announced Nov 8 as the date for a historic general election set to be the first contested by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party in a quarter of a century.

The announcement fires the starting gun for the much-anticipated polls in the former junta-run nation, which has launched a series of reforms since the end of outright military rule in 2011.

"The general election will be held on Nov 8. The Union Election Commission will announce further details later," said the election commission in Yangon.

The vote will select MPs for both Houses of Parliament. A president will be chosen later by Parliament, but Ms Suu Kyi is barred by the Constitution from taking the top job.

The Nobel peace laureate's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), did not immediately say whether it would participate in the polls, although it is widely expected to make huge gains at the ballot box if it does.

The vote will select MPs for both Houses of Parliament. A president will be chosen later by Parliament, but Ms Suu Kyi is barred by the Constitution from taking the top job.

"We need to hold a meeting to make a decision," said party spokesman Nyan Win.

For many of Myanmar's roughly 30 million voters, the general election would be the first-ever chance for them to cast their votes in nationwide polls contested by the country's main opposition.

The NLD won nationwide elections in 1990, while Ms Suu Kyi was under house arrest, but was prevented from taking power by the military government then.

Ms Suu Kyi spent some 15 years under house arrest and was still locked up during the last general election in 2010, which was boycotted by the NLD and riven with flaws and accusations of cheating.

But the veteran campaigner and 44 of her NLD members now sit in Parliament, after a 2012 by-election held as part of sweeping reforms under a quasi-civilian government dominated by former generals.

Under President Thein Sein, a former general, the Myanmar government has been credited with ending draconian media censorship, freeing political prisoners as well as launching economic reforms that have seen the lifting of most Western sanctions.

But Ms Suu Kyi and rights campaigners have warned that reforms have stalled or even reversed in some areas, with dozens of student protesters behind bars and the tightening of media freedoms.

Last month, she vowed not to "back down" from the elections despite defeat in a parliamentary vote aimed at ending the military's effective veto on constitutional change.

A quarter of the seats in Parliament are reserved for unelected members of the military. This provision means any major Charter change needs a majority of more than 75 per cent - giving the military the final say.

The result of the recent vote virtually extinguished Ms Suu Kyi's chances of the country's presidency at this stage because of a provision excluding those with foreign children from the top office. Her sons are British.

With no obvious second candidate for the top job within the NLD, observers predict the party could end up supporting a presidential candidate outside its ranks.

The NLD, which has come under fire for failing to outline specific policy ideas as the elections loom, yesterday said it was poised to release a much-awaited statement on the economy, health, security and education. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2015, with the headline 'Myanmar goes to the polls on Nov 8'. Print Edition | Subscribe