What you need to know about Myanmar's landmark election

Supporters of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).
Supporters of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).PHOTO: AFP

Myanmar's general election on Sunday (Nov 8) is the country's first since a nominally civilian government was introduced in 2011, ending nearly 50 years of military rule.

The election presents a rare opportunity for an estimated 30 million people to cast their votes in a nationwide poll contested by the main opposition.

Here's a quick look at the election:

Seats contested


Myanmar's Union Parliament building in Naypyidaw. PHOTO: AFP

The election is for 498 seats in both houses of Parliament, as well as hundreds of seats in state assemblies. The 498 seats constitute 75 per cent of the total seats in Parliament; the remaining 166 seats (25 per cent) are appointed by the military commander-in-chief. The military also has a reserved bloc of 25 per cent of seats in the state assemblies.

Candidates


Myanmar's parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann (centre) and National League for Democracy chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi (right) attend an annual meeting of Parliament in Naypyidaw. PHOT
O: AFP

There are more than 6,000 candidates and more than 90 registered political parties, many of them representing the large ethnic minority populations.

Key political parties


A Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) party supporter (left) and a National League for Democracy (NLD) supporter (right). PHOTOS: AFP

There are two frontrunners - the ruling and military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party and the National League for Democracy.

Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP):


Mya Nyein, a USDP candidate, gives a speech during their party campaign rally in Yangon, Myanmar. PHOTO: REUTERS

The ruling party, led by President Thein Sein, is made up of influential former generals and businessmen who made their wealth through ties with the former junta. It won the 2010 election which was widely seen as flawed and boycotted by the National League for Democracy.

The USDP needs to take around a third of seats to link up with the military bloc in parliament. Army lawmakers have a veto over major policies, including changes to the constitution. But the party is expected to be trounced by the National League for Democracy.

Radical Buddhist monks, who are gaining influence in Myanmar, have called on their followers not to vote for the opposition, essentially allying with the USDP.

National League for Democracy (NLD):


A poster of Aung San Suu Kyi and her late father General Aung San pictured below a stage during a National League for Democracy (NLD) rally outside the Yangon Central Railway Station on 5 Nov, 2015. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD won the first national elections in Myanmar in 1990, but the results were annulled by the powerful military, which detained the Nobel laureate and extended iron-fisted military rule for more than two decades until the calibrated handover in 2011 to a quasi-civilian government.

The NLD boycotted the 2010 elections but it contested in the 2012 by-elections and won a landslide victory - winning 43 out of the 44 parliamentary seats it contested. Weeks later, Ms Suu Skyi - a former political prisoner who spent much of her time between 1989 and 2010 under house arrest - was sworn into parliament.

The NLD needs 67 per cent of seats to win an outright majority and beat down the challenge of any coalition between the USDP and the army.

Possible scenarios


A young National League for Democracy (NLD) supporter watches during a rally outside the Yangon Central Railway Station in Myanmar on 5 Nov, 2015. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Myanmar observers say Ms Suu Kyi's NLD is expected to make huge gains, if the election is fair. The powerful armed forces chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has pledged to respect the poll result. Though it remains to be seen if the military will nullify the results again if it loses, analysts say this scenario is less likely than in 1990.

An International Crisis Group (ICG) report said: "The commander-in-chief has voiced support for the democratic electoral process and has undoubtedly foreseen the prospect of strong support for the NLD. But this does not mean he would be comfortable with all the potential implications of such an outcome."

 

Even if NLD does manage a majority or even a landslide, Ms Suu Kyi herself cannot be President because of a clause in the constitution barring anyone with foreign family connections from the post. She was married to a British citizen and her two sons are British.

Amendment to the constitution is unlikely, as the military - which has a reserved bloc of 25 per cent of all seats in both parliament and the state assemblies - can block amendments to the constitution.

Ms Suu Kyi has said if her party wins the election, she will nominate someone from the party as President and will remain the de facto leader of the party - in other words, the real power behind the scenes.

The ICG said the months between the election and the appointment of Myanmar's new president "will be a time of considerable uncertainty, possible tension, and intense behind-the-scenes negotiation".

Sources: THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS