There is still time for Myanmar’s main opposition party to forge alliances with ethnic political parties.
The National League for Democracy has already released its list of candidates for this year’s election. As expected, the party will compete in almost all of the constituencies nationwide. However, from looking at the lists, it would appear that the party is not allying itself with any of the ethnic parties prior to the election.
More than 90 parties plan to the run in the November 8 election, but only the NLD and the Union Solidarity and Development Party will compete nationwide, hoping to provide the country’s next president by gaining a majority in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Combined Houses of Parliament). The aim for the ethnic parties will be different; they will be aiming to gain enough seats in their respective states to select the chief minister.
According to the 2008 Constitution, the president appoints the government ministers, state and region chief ministers and forms the government. The president is selected by three groups; the Amyotha Hluttaw (Upper House) representative group, the Pyithu Hluttaw (Lower House) representative group and representatives made up from the armed forces. Each group nominates a candidate and the nominee with the most votes will become president, with the other two becoming vice presidents.
In theory, if one party wins the majority in one house, it will nominate at least one presidential candidate, if it wins the majority in both houses, it will be able to nominate two presidential candidates.
Instead, the ethnic parties will be aiming to win as many seats as possible in the state and region assembly in order to be in a stronger position to provide the chief minister in their state hluttaws. The major parties will have less interest in the state and region hluttaws, as these have negligible impact on the presidency.
Looking at the figures, there are 220 seats available in the Pyith Hluttaw and 168 in the Amyotha, a total of 498. But in the states where ethnic parties are competing, there will be a total of 207 seats (123 in Pyithu Hluttaw and 84 in the Amyotha Hluttaw), 42 percent of all Pyidaungsu seats available. The NLD will need to compete with the USDP and the ethnic parties in order to win the majority.
Since the aims of the ethnic parties and the NLD are not the same – and only in a few constituencies will the NLD be competing with ethnic groups – it would make sense for the opposition party to align themselves with ethnic parties. The NLD would be able to exchange its seats at state level with the ethnic groups’ at Pyidaungsu level. If the NLD can do this, there is a better chance that it will the majority at the Pyidaungsu level, and ethnic parties could win more seats the state level. The NLD can negotiate in advance with the ethnic parties that if it does get into a position to propose the president, it can give chief minister positions to the ethnic parties.
But the NLD is not using this strategy. Their ideology is that they will ally with some strong parties after the election results come out, only if necessary. Yet it is not certain that the NLD will win the most seats.
One thing consider is that in the 2010 election, the votes were collected in secret. No one knows who is voting for who. Whoever becomes president, the role of forming the government and assigning ministers is solely in their hand.
In order for the NLD to gain the presidential position, it would be better for them to align themselves with the ethnic parties before the election rather than after the results have come out. Since the Union Election Commission extended the deadline for candidate lists, there is still time for them to organise a deal with the ethnics.