By HEIN KO SOE | FRONTIER
YANGON — Ethnic Kachin political parties will this weekend get their first chance to take on the National League for Democracy since agreeing to merge earlier this year, but their candidate says victory is unlikely due to the seat’s demographics.
Six candidates are contesting the Amyotha Hluttaw seat of Kachin-2 in the November 3 vote, but the candidates from the NLD and Kachin Democratic Party are expected to be the frontrunners.
In August, four Kachin parties claiming the same ethnic mandate agreed to merge into one party. As they weren’t able to register the new party in time for the by-elections, a candidate from the KDP is running with the backing of the other parties.
KDP candidate Gum Grawng Awng Hkam said he was not confident of victory because only around 40 percent of voters in the seat, which encompasses the state capital Myitkyina, are ethnic Kachin.
“We’re stronger than in past elections so that will give us a better chance but I can’t say for sure we’re going to win,” he said.
The NLD campaign has also been by far the most visible and active, with the party bringing in members from nearby Hpakant, Shwegu, Mohnyin and Mogaung townships to support its candidate, Daw Yam Hkawn.
She said she was confident the NLD would be victorious when votes are tallied on November 3.
“I think the NLD will still pick up a lot of the ethnic Kachin vote,” she said. “If you look at the population data, the NLD has the best chance to win.”
Immigration department data provided to Frontier by the candidates suggest 40 percent of voters are ethnic Bamar and Shan, and the rest are a mix of Chinese, Muslim and other minority groups.
In the 2015 election, the NLD took the seat with 46.67 percent of the vote, while four Kachin parties combined tallied only 30.82 percent.
The KDP candidate may gain from disillusionment among Kachin with the NLD, including over the government’s handling of the sensitive Myitsone Dam issue.
Suspended by President U Thein Sein in September 2011, the future of the unpopular China-backed project remains unclear. The NLD established a commission to review the project in August 2016 but has not revealed the recommendations of its final report, which was filed to the President’s Office later that year.
Gum Grawng Awng Hkam, who in 2015 contested the Pyithu Hluttaw seat of Sumprabum for the KDP, said Myitsone was one of four key issues that he had been campaigning on, along with peace, self-determination and anti-narcotics.
“During my campaign, voters told me the key issue for them was peace and then Myitsone,” he told Frontier. “It’s a big issue for the people here and the current representative in Kachin State haven’t done anything about it. People are annoyed at their representatives and I’ve promised to always oppose the Myitsone Dam – I will never support it. If I win I’ll work from inside the Hluttaw to stop the dam, and if I lose I’ll continue to oppose it too.”
Yam Hkawn agreed Myitsone was an important issue but said the NLD was in the process of resolving it.
“Whoever wins the election, they won’t be able to solve it on their own. It’s very much related with the Union government and the bilateral relationship, so I never make any promises about the Myitsone Dam when I campaign,” she said.
Figures released by the Union Election Commission show that the seat has 182,705 registered voters, up from 178,579 in 2015.
The constituency stretches for more than 200 kilometres, from downtown Myitkyina to villages controlled by the Kachin Independence Army.
During the campaign the UEC had informed candidates not to campaign in four KIA-controlled villages with a combined 120 voters.