Close by-elections race looms in Shan State

Of the 18 by-elections due to be held throughout the country on April 1, seven will take place in Shan State and are likely to be the focus of a fierce contest among three parties.


THE BY-ELECTIONS announced by the Union Election Commission for April 1 next year are to fill 18 vacancies, including nine in the Pyithu Hluttaw, three in the Amyotha Hluttaw and six in state and regional assemblies.

Most of the vacancies occurred when MPs who won seats in the 2015 general election were appointed to government positions, though two follow the deaths of incumbents.

Among the by-elections for Pyithu Hluttaw seats is Kawhmu in Yangon Region, held last November by National League for Democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. One of the three Amyotha Hluttaw by-elections will fill the vacancy in Chin State No. 3 constituency, created by the appointment of NLD member U Henry Van Thio as vice president.

In Shan State’s Kyethi and Hmong Hsu townships, where voting was cancelled last year for security reasons, there will by-elections for six vacancies; two in the Pyithu Hluttaw and four in the state assembly.

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A hard-fought three-way contest among the National League for Democracy, Union Solidarity and Development Party and Shan Nationalities League for Democracy looms for the Lower House vacancies and state assembly seats in Kengtung, as well as Kyethi and Hmong Hsu.

Sai Nyunt Lwin, the general secretary of the SNLD, has confirmed it will contest all Shan State assembly seats. The only other by-election at state or regional level will be Hpruso in Kayah State.

There will be no by-elections in another five constituencies in Shan State, in the Wa Self-Administered Division, where voting did not take place in the general elections of 2010 and 2015 and the 2012 by-election.

Holding by-elections in the division would be a problem, said Sai Nyunt Lwin, referring to tensions between the Union government and the United Wa State Army over the peace process.

Sai Nyunt Lwin said the SNLD would be meeting soon to choose its candidates for the by-elections in Keythi, Hmong Hsu and Kengtung. The names of the candidates would not be revealed immediately as part of a deliberate strategy, he said.

Fierce competition is likely in the three townships, especially for the five seats in the state assembly. Of its 137 elected MPs, 33 are from the USDP, 25 from the SNLD and 23 from the NLD.

The central executive committees of the NLD and USDP have said they will field candidates in all by-elections.

USDP CEC member U Khin Ye said the party had instructed its township officers at Keythi, Hmong Hsu and Kengtung to propose candidates for the by-elections.

“Candidates will be proposed at the township level and the CEC will make the final decision,” he said, adding that the party was using the by-elections as a “test” for the general election in 2020.

A member of the NLD CEC, U Nyan Win, said it would meet within the coming month to choose candidates for the by-elections.

The NLD would base its by-elections campaigning on experience gained in last year’s landslide general election victory. “We are focused on winning the by-elections,” he said.

Some smaller parties are still deciding whether to field candidates in the by-elections.

They include the National Democratic Force, which contested a total of 257 seats in 2015, but was unsuccessful. The party will make a decision on the by-elections next month, said a member of its CEC, U Toe Toe.

The Mon National Party will also decide next month whether to contest the Pyithu Hluttaw seat of Chaungzon, said party joint secretary-2, U Min Kyi Win.

Some NLD voters have complained that the appointment of winning candidates to government service has left them deprived of an MP for months.

“We would only ever vote for the NLD but we never see an MP in my township,” said Ma Wai Wai, 31, a resident of Yangon’s Dagon Seikkan Township, where a by-election will be held to fill the Pyithu Hluttaw vacancy created by the appointment of U Kyaw Win as Minister for Planning and Finance.

An election law amendment approved last May bans the holding of by-elections during the first and final year of a hluttaw’s tenure and requires the UEC to hold by-elections within one year after being advised of vacancies by the Union Parliament speaker.

The UEC was advised of the Pyithu and Amyotha hluttaw vacancies immediately after the law was amended.

A timeframe for the by-elections released by the UEC on October 18 provides for the list of candidates to be announced on January 2 and stipulates a campaigning period from January 30 to March 30.

“We are preparing for the by-elections as is our duty but we don’t know yet what the budget allocation will be,” said UEC deputy director general U Hla Maung Cho.

Top photo: The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy has confirmed it will contest all Shan State assembly seats next April. (AFP)

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