Tale of Five Elections

Mayangone

Mayangone Township residents keep their distance while lined up for donations of rice, fish and oil from political party campaigners on October 7. (Hkun Lat | Frontier)

Unable to campaign, parties pivot to COVID-19 charity in Yangon’s Mayangone Township

Pandemic restrictions have moved campaigns mostly online, but that hasn’t stopped parties from doling out “charity” to the residents of a north Yangon suburb where the NLD remains king.

This article is part of Frontier’s Tale of Five Elections series. We’re following the election through five townships across the country, capturing events and local voices through the campaign, voting and declaration of winners. Scroll to the bottom for the first article on Mayangone.

By KAUNG HSET NAING | FRONTIER

Jewellery magnate Daw Thet Thet Khine’s People’s Pioneer Party made its presence known in Yangon’s northern suburban Mayangone Township early this election season, passing out rice and cooking oil to the needy even before campaigning officially began on September 8. The party was formed just last year, and the early effort has helped raise its local profile – visibility being the biggest challenge for smaller and newer parties hobbled by COVID-19 restrictions. 

Thet Thet Khine is the PPP Pyithu Hluttaw candidate for the relatively affluent enclave just south of Yangon International Airport. She insists the party’s early efforts were not a form of campaigning, which would make it illegal. They were just her and her party “helping the needy”, she told Frontier. Perhaps, but she and her colleagues sported all-blue party uniforms while conducting this charitable giving. 

During the last week of September the PPP sold rice at reduced prices to residents of the cramped, low-income pockets of the township that are interspersed between the golf courses and gated mansions. Other parties distributed masks and boxes of prepared food.

People’s Pioneer Party chair Daw Thet Thet Khine, second from right, speaks with an elderly voter in Yangon’s Mayangone Township while handing out food donations. (Hkun Lat | Frontier)

Pandemic restrictions have inhibited campaigns across the country, but perhaps nowhere more dramatically than in Yangon, where city-wide stay-at-home orders have been in place since September 21. But residents in Mayangone, where clusters were reported even earlier, have been under stay-at-home orders since September 9.

“It is so different from 2015,” said Daw Than Than Maw, a resident of Mayangone’s third ward and a National League for Democracy member. “At this point [in the 2015 campaign] we were going around town making speeches. This year we cannot.”

In Mayangone, a total of 23 candidates from seven parties are competing in the township for four seats – one in the Pyithu Hluttaw and two in the Yangon Region government, as well as the Amyotha Hluttaw seat of Yangon-11, which includes several other townships. However, the only one with even the slightest chance of unseating the NLD is the PPP. And while the PPP has significantly raised its profile in the township, NLD chair Daw Aung San Suu Kyi still retains mammoth support. The NLD swept the township in the previous general election in 2015, with candidate Dr May Win Myint winning 78 percent of the vote in the lower house contest. May Win Myint was the incumbent in that race, having won it for the NLD in the 2012 by-elections.

This means all four NLD candidates running this year have the advantage of incumbency, on top of the appeal of their party leader. It has also allowed them to lead COVID-19 prevention measures and hand out relief under the badge of the NLD government early on in the pandemic, and as the election approaches. May Win Myint, who is running to keep her Pyithu Hluttaw seat, has been campaigning on her performance as an MP fighting the pandemic specifically.

Starting in early October, May Win Myint alongside Daw Moe Moe Su Kyi and U Yan Shin, who are the NLD candidates for the Mayangone-2 and Mayangone-1 regional assembly seats respectively, have been passing out NLD-branded umbrellas to trishaw drivers in the township.

Yan Shin told Frontier on October 14 he’s also been distributing rice and food to people stuck at home because of stay-at-home orders, and to quarantine centres that have been established in the township.

Asked what platforms and policies they will pursue if elected, several NLD candidates said, somewhat counter-intuitively, that the party forbids them from making campaign pledges before the election. Both Yan Shin and May Win Myint said they would not comment until after the election on November 8, but referred people to their party’s manifesto and official statements made on Facebook.

Mayangone residents don face masks and clutch food goods donated by the People’s Pioneer Party. (Hkun Lat | Frontier)

The military-backed opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party has also been passing out masks and party literature. Daw Khin Aye, 50, a fourth ward resident, said the party also distributed hand soap in her ward during the second week of October. But, she said, USDP handouts pale in comparison to those of the NLD and PPP.

Oddly, every party and candidate Frontier spoke to was insistent that these handouts were not part of their campaigns but were instead just charitable giving, despite their sporting party apparel while doing it. Not all voters are convinced.

“If it isn’t campaigning, why are they wearing party shirts and waving party flags,” asked Ko Kan Thar Thar Hein, 29, a resident of the third ward. “They mix philanthropy with campaigning, like when offering rice donations.”

Despite his scepticism, he still welcomes the donations. “It’s helpful for people struggling financially through the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.

Even online the NLD and PPP seem to be the most active parties in Mayangone, which the USDP seems to have written off as a lost cause. Thet Thet Khine, the party’s primary challenger in the township, is herself a former NLD member, kicked out of the party in 2018 for publicly criticising it.

She and the four NLD candidates have been aggressively posting pictures of themselves passing out donations to locked-down residents and quarantine centres on Facebook. The PPP also held a Zoom meeting with residents on October 14 and broadcast it live on Facebook. Thet Thet Khine told Frontier she will host another online meeting with residents before election day.

In her broadcast, Thet Thet Khine urged voters to reflect on what their elected leaders had done for them in the past five years, and if they’re unhappy, to vote them out. But in reality, there seems to be little to distinguish the policy goals of the two parties. The PPP in their online meeting pledged to push for “democracy” and “federal policy”, while May Win Myint, who is favoured to keep her Pyithu Hluttaw seat, said the party pledges to work toward a “true democratic federal union”, and for “peace” and “security” for the country.

PPP chair and Pyithu Hluttaw candidate for Mayangone Township Daw Thet Thet Khine speaks to Frontier on August 26. (Thuya Zaw | Frontier)

Meanwhile, election sub commissions at every level are struggling to safely arrange polling amid the pandemic. Mayangone’s Basic Education High School No. 1, which usually houses six polling stations, has been turned into a quarantine centre. The stations will instead be in the nearby Paw Taw Mu Pagoda.

Of the township’s 121 designated polling stations, 18 are being moved to alternative locations according to the Western District election sub commission. Half of them are now serving as quarantine centres. The other half were previously located on the second floors of their buildings and are being moved to first-floor locations to comply with new regulations to accommodate voters with disabilities.

Election workers are also scrambling to finalise lists of voters aged over 60, who will be able to cast advance votes from home.

The election commission had announced on October 10 that some voters over 60 – who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus – will be allowed to vote in advance between October 25 and November 5. The measure is limited to 29 townships in Yangon and five in Mandalay that are under stay-at-home orders and have a population density of at least 5,000 people per square kilometre.

“We don’t even have enough staff to type up these voter lists, so we’ve had to hire a typist with our own money,” said U Kyaw Kyaw Win, chairman of the Mayangone Township election sub commission.

To comply with anti-crowding measures devised by the Ministry of Health and Sports, voters assigned to polling stations in densely-populated wards will be split into two groups, who will be asked to vote in shifts. Polling stations will also require temperature checks, hand washing at basins set up by the local sub-commission, and face masks, which poll workers will distribute.

As of October 25, Mayangone had 1,460 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the health ministry.

“We cannot lose a single life. We’re doing this in accordance with health ministry rules and guidelines,” Kyaw Kyaw Win said. “I think we will be okay.”

A man cycles past campaign signboards in Mayangone Township. (Hkun Lat | Frontier)

Voters told Frontier they are worried about the pandemic but not enough to keep them from voting. Ma Aye Aye San, a 40-year-old who lives on Shwe Nyaung Bin Street in ward three, said an elderly man and a child died from COVID-19 in a house five minutes walking distance from her own in mid-October. Still, she’s adamant about voting.

“We can become infected in many other ways” she said, suggesting that voting would not pose an especially grave risk so long as health guidelines are followed.

She will proudly cast her vote for the NLD, as she did five years ago.

“If we don’t vote in this election, I’m afraid we’ll go back to military rule,” she said.

Voters in COVID-19 protective gear queue up to vote at a Mayangone Township polling station on November 9. (Thuya Zaw | Frontier)

‘Young people need jobs’: Mayangone voters hope NLD victory boosts youth employment

Residents in one of Yangon’s largest constituencies are urging the ruling party to use its powerful mandate to provide work for young people, and to deliver more urban development.

This is the final article about Mayangone in Frontier’s Tale of Five Elections series. We have followed the election in five townships across the country, capturing events and local voices through the contest and its aftermath. Scroll down for the first three articles on Mayangone.

By YE MON | FRONTIER

Like most in Yangon’s Mayangone Township, local resident Ma Nwe Nwe Win was pleased with the National League for Democracy’s resounding victory, both there and nationwide, on November 8.

“Before the election, I believed that the NLD would win again in Mayangone Township, and it happened,” the 22-year-old first-time voter said.

The party didn’t just win the township – one of Yangon’s largest, stretching from the Hlaing River in the west to the Pazundaung Creek in the east and home to almost 200,000 people – it did so resoundingly, taking all available seats: the Pyithu Hluttaw, two in the Yangon Region Parliament and the Amyotha Hluttaw seat of Yangon-11, which includes several other townships. Nationwide, it won more than 80 percent of elected seats in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, Myanmar’s Union parliament.

Map by Thibi

The victor in the Pyithu Hluttaw battle, the NLD’s Daw May Win Myint, received more than 80pc of the almost 110,000 votes cast. She was followed by U Min Thein of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, with under 10pc. The NLD also comfortably won the two regional parliament seats, with almost 90pc in constituency 1 and 76pc in constituency 2.

Nwe Nwe, who works for a recruitment company in the commercial capital, now hopes the ruling party uses its second term to focus on providing jobs for young people.

“Most young people find it difficult to get jobs, so the NLD needs to solve this issue within the next five years,” she said. “Young people need jobs to survive.”

First-time voter Ma Nwe Nwe Win hopes the ruling party can deliver on youth employment. (Thuya Zaw | Frontier)

Similarly, Ko Kyi Wai Lin, 44, who runs a car rental service in the township, told Frontier that he had queued for almost two hours on election day to vote for the NLD, and said he hoped they would focus on boosting the economy and creating jobs, especially for young people.

“If there are a lot of job opportunities, people’s quality of life will improve,” he said.

Kyi Wai Lin said he thought the ruling party performed well in their first term and believes their approach to urban planning was an improvement on the previous USDP administration.

“Flooding is still a problem in rainy season, but I expect that MPs and the new regional government will focus on city development in Yangon,” he said, adding that he believed the NLD conducts projects out of “goodwill” for the people.

Local business owner Ko Kyi Wai Linn hopes the next NLD government can deliver better urban infrastructure. (Thuya Zaw | Frontier)

The NLD certainly has MPs in Mayangone with the necessary experience to get things done ­­– most notably the re-elected Pyithu Hluttaw representative May Win Myint, 70, a member of the party’s Central Executive Committee. She ran successfully for the party in the 1990 general election, an NLD victory famously ignored by the ruling military junta, as well as in the 2012 by-elections and 2015 general election.

May Win Myint did not respond to a request for comment from Frontier on her election victory, but the day after the vote she wrote a post on her Facebook page thanking those who voted for her, and promising to fulfil her “responsibilities to the people”.

The vote in Mayangone attracted attention in the build-up due to the presence of Daw Thet Thet Khine, the Pyithu Hluttaw candidate for the People’s Pioneer Party, which she co-founded last year. A year earlier, she had quit the NLD after it suspended her for criticising the leadership style of party leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Thet Thet Khine performed poorly in the election, however, ranking third behind the NLD and the USDP and capturing just over 7pc of the vote.

How votes were split between parties in the November 8 election. (Source: UEC; created by Thibi)

Speaking to Frontier on November 11, Thet Thet Khine congratulated the NLD on their victory but expressed concern about how free and fair the vote was compared to the previous election. She said election observers had been unable to monitor the ballot printing process, to know the exact number of ballot papers, while the COVID-19 pandemic had also meant that parties were unable to check voter lists as closely as they otherwise might, which may have allowed many of the errors in the lists to go uncorrected.

“We also heard that voters older than 60 could not vote in private in some places,” she said, referring to the fact that when elderly voters were permitted to conduct early voting from their homes due to health concerns, they did so in the close presence of election officials.

While some international monitors have pointed out flaws in the country’s electoral laws and examples of discrimination, most described a largely clean vote on election day.

Thet Thet Kine said she believed the NLD won more because of name recognition than their policy platform, adding that it was harder for smaller parties like hers to spread their message due to stay-at-home orders to contain the health crisis, which have been in place across Yangon and in badly affected areas elsewhere in the country since September.

A polling assistant enforces health measures at a Mayangone Township polling station on November 8. (Thuya Zaw | Frontier)

COVID-19 caused other problems in the township. Its sub-election commission was criticised after more than 280 eligible voters in quarantine at the Inya COVID-19 Centre in Mayangone were unable to vote because their advance ballots did not arrive in time.

During a speech on state television the day after the vote, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi apologised to those unable to vote due to the COVID-19 restrictions, saying the government had been unable to make arrangements for those taken to hospitals or quarantine centres just a few days before the election.

U Kyaw Kyaw Win, chair of the Mayangone Township election sub-commission, told Frontier on November 11 that his office had faced delays in receiving the relevant ballots from other sub-commissions in townships where the quarantined voters were registered.

Because many of them would be voting outside their constituencies, different sub-commissions needed to coordinate closely within a short space of time, leading to mistakes.

Kyaw Kyaw Win said many of the ballots had not been prepared for collection when, “two days before [the election], I went to some township election sub-commissions to collect the ballot papers and take them to the centre myself”.

How voters turned out on November 8. (Source: UEC; created by Thibi)

Mayangone has also been the scene of a seemingly futile stand taken by the defeated USDP. U Nyaw Win Htike, the party’s candidate for the Yangon-11 Amyotha Hluttaw seat, which includes Mayangone, refused to sign the results sheet, known as From 19, which signals acceptance of the outcome in a constituency but is not required for results to be certified.

Unsuccessful USDP candidates across Myanmar also refused to sign their results sheets, following central party orders. Apparently borrowing from the playbook of outgoing United States president Donald Trump, the USDP has refused to acknowledge the NLD’s victory, accusing the NLD of vote buying and cheating during the advance voting process, among other things. It has called for the election to be re-held with Tatmadaw assistance, but the military has disassociated itself from the USDP’s stance and refused to intervene.

Township sub-commission chair Kyaw Kyaw Win said he was unconcerned by the USDP’s accusations. “We can’t handle this kind of issue. It should be sent directly to the UEC,” Kyaw Kyaw Win said.

He was referencing the formal process for post-election disputes, in which aggrieved candidates and voters have 45 days from the declaration of results to file challenges with the Union Election Commission. On payment of a K500,000 filing fee, the UEC appoints a tribunal that, after hearing evidence in sessions lasting months, has the power to deprive elected an MP of their seat and hand it to the runner-up in the race.

“We do not have bias, and we don’t care if people criticise us,” Kyaw Kyaw Win said. “I don’t support any party.”

“We believe in what we did, and God knows it.”

An elderly voter casts an advance ballot in Yangon's Mayangone Township on October 30. (Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier)

Voting trumps COVID-19 concerns in Mayangone Township

Voters in Yangon’s northern Mayangone Township say exercising their right to vote is more important than worrying about catching COVID-19 on Sunday.

This article is part of Frontier’s Tale of Five Elections series. We’re following the election through five townships across the country, capturing events and local voices through the campaign, voting and declaration of winners. Scroll to the bottom for the first two articles on Mayangone.

By KAUNG HSET NAING | FRONTIER

The older residents of Yangon’s northern Mayangone Township were quick to take advantage of the Union Election Commission’s decision to allow voters aged 60 and over to cast advance ballots – a response to concerns that crowded polling stations on election day could expose this vulnerable segment of the population to COVID-19.

More than 23,500 elderly residents registered for advance voting in Mayangone, according to the township election sub-commission. While the commission could not say how many of those had cast votes, when Frontier visited the township on October 29, the first day of the process, polling stations set up for these voters were packed.

Advance voting for elders was allowed between October 29 and November 5 in areas under stay-at-home orders or with high population densities – both of which apply to Mayangone. More than 4,000 – or 17 percent – of the township’s elderly that had registered for advance votes live in ward 1, where, despite the stay-at-home orders, the streets were bustling.

One polling station there was set up for advance voting in a 10-square-foot shed, surrounded by another 20-square-foot outdoor waiting area, close to the Thamaing Myothit station on Yangon’s circular railway. About 20 elderly voters were sat on chairs inside the shed waiting to cast their ballots when Frontier visited, with no social distancing between the chairs or between voting booths.

Map by Thibi

“This is all we could do with the space that was available to us,” said U San Htay, a member of the ward election sub-commission.

Social distancing was also noticeably absent at other makeshift polling stations for advance voting that Frontier visited throughout the township. Conditions where universally cramped, yet the elderly voters didn’t seem to mind, telling Frontier that exercising their right to vote was more important to them than social distancing.

“I’m worried, but casting a vote is more important for the country’s future,” said U Than Htay, 67. He was voting at a polling station on Thamaing Myothit 1st Street, where four people have tested positive for COVID-19 – the latest on October 30. “If I don’t vote, the party I support might lose by one vote,” he said.

Pyithu Hluttaw MP for Mayangone Dr May Win Myint, who is seeking re-election as a National League for Democracy candidate, said on her Facebook page on November 4 that more than 18,500 elderly voters in the township had cast their ballots by November 3. That’s nearly 80pc of those registered, with two days left to go.

Elderly voters sit close together while waiting to cast advance ballots in Mayangone on October 30. (Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier)

The Yangon Region election sub-commission told The Irrawaddy on November 4 that more than 600,000, or 75 percent, of Yangon’s 800,000 voters who are aged 60 and over had voted in advance.

Daw Than Than Maw, an NLD representative at a polling station for advance voting in Mayangone’s ward 3, said some had been so keen to cast a ballot they had arrived before the ballot boxes had even been delivered. This eagerness augurs well for a high voter turnout on Sunday despite COVID-19, election officials say.

U Khin Maung Win, chairman of the Yangon Western District election sub-commission, said people were more worried about missing the opportunity to vote or their ballot being declared invalid than they were about the coronavirus.

NLD supporters interviewed by Frontier said they were eager to vote because of their admiration for party chair and state counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and a fear of the country returning to a military dictatorship if she leaves office. But others want to give a chance to the upstart People’s Pioneer Party, whose chair, jewellery magnate Daw Thet Thet Khine, has been campaigning aggressively for the Pyithu Hluttaw seat, including by handing out charitable donations to poor residents who are suffering under the COVID-19 lockdown measures. Thet Thet Khine quit the NLD after it suspended her for criticising Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership style in 2018. The following year she co-founded the PPP.

Ward 4 resident Daw Khin Aye has high blood pressure and good reason to be cautious about voting: there are at least six COVID-19 cases in her ward. While that won’t stop her from voting, she is taking precautions. “I wear a mask and wash my hands to keep safe,” the PPP supporter told Frontier.

Elderly voters wait to cast advance votes at a makeshift polling station on a street in Mayangone on October 30. (Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier)

Still, plans to host multiple polling stations in single locations do have many residents concerned about overcrowding on election day. Of the 20 polling stations in ward 1, seven have been established at Basic Education Primary Schools No. 5 and No. 13 in the township.

Ward 3 resident Ko Kan Thar Hein thinks it will be tough to practice social distancing since, even if it is enforced inside, there will be large crowds of voters outside. “But people are crowding into buses to commute now anyway, so there’s no difference,” he said.

Khin Maung Win said the Western District election sub-commission had taken steps to ensure there was no crowding on election day, and that elderly people casting advance votes were doing so in shifts to avoid crowding – though, from what Frontier saw, this wasn’t being enforced.

As of November 7, there had been 1,879 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Mayangone. But Ko Aung Kyaw Kyaw, who lives in ward 1, is undaunted.

“I intend to vote, and if I get infected I will have to accept it. I am likely to recover because I am healthy and have no pre-existing illnesses,” he said.

“Mother Suu made many sacrifices for us; we only need to sacrifice one day for her.”

A Mayangone trishaw driver waits for customers while clad in People's Pioneer Party gear. (Thuya Zaw | Frontier)

NLD challenger faces an uphill battle in Mayangone

Voters in the affluent Yangon township remain enthusiastic about the ruling party, but the insurgent People’s Pioneer Party is pouring resources into the election race.

This article is part of Frontier’s Tale of Five Elections series. We’re following the election through five townships across the country, capturing events and local voices through the campaign, voting and declaration of winners. Stay tuned for updates about Mayangone, as well as Bawlakhe in Kayah State, Myitkyina in Kachin State, Mrauk-U in Rakhine State and Pyawbwe in Mandalay Region.

By YE MON | FRONTIER

Had Ma Nwe Nwe been 18 in the last general election in 2015, she’d have voted for the National League for Democracy. The 22-year-old resident of Yangon’s Mayangone Township is excited to make up for it in November. 

Her party preference seems to be shared by most voters in Mayangone, at the northern end of the city, just below the airport. The NLD won every seat it contested in the township in 2015 with at least 70 percent of the vote. Although nearly every resident Frontier spoke to in mid-August said they were unhappy with their current elected officials, they also said they were eager to vote them back in because they want NLD leader and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to continue leading the country.

Map created by Thibi

This divided attitude among voters towards the ruling party – enthusiastic support for the top leadership and the party overall, alongside disappointment or disinterest in the party MPs they had directly elected to serve them – is common across Myanmar, where local issues seldom make it into election campaigns. 

Despite her enthusiasm for the ruling party, Nwe Nwe told Frontier she doesn’t know who her Pyithu Hluttaw representative is. 

It’s Dr May Win Myint, a former democracy activist and current NLD central executive committee member. She was first elected to the seat in a 2012 by-election and was re-elected in 2015. But while other Mayangone residents had heard of May Win Myint, most said she and other elected officials feel distant. 

There are poor and working class communities scattered throughout, but Mayangone is largely known for its wealth. The township includes two golf courses and the palatial homes of several retired senior military officials. Many of the rural-born migrants that have crowded into Yangon’s densely-packed Hlaing Tharyar Township to the west work on construction sites here.

Ko Moe Zaw Aung, a 48-year-old resident and active volunteer with local civic and religious groups, was born and raised in the township’s third ward. He’s disappointed with what he described as detached politicians. He said his current regional MP, U Yan Shin (Mayangone-1), failed to meet with constituents in at least three meetings he’d tried to organise.

He said Yan Shin, when he comes to his ward, only meets with government administrators and NLD party members.

Mayangone-born volunteer Ko Moe Zaw Aung wishes MPs were more attentive to their constituents but still plans to vote NLD in November. (Thuya Zaw | Frontier)

Yan Shin denies these claims. He told Frontier on August 26 that he regularly meets with residents.

The issue will ultimately be adjudicated by Mayangone’s voters, who will decide on candidates from the NLD, the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party and two newly formed parties, the People’s Pioneer Party and the Union Betterment Party. 

When Frontier visited in mid August, ahead of the official campaign period that began on September 8, the PPP seemed to be in full-on campaign mode. Party volunteers were passing out branded umbrellas and face masks and helping trishaw drivers affix party flags to their rigs. They were also distributing four pyi (about 8.5 kilogrammes) and one viss (1.6kg) of cooking oil to households. 

How votes were split between parties in the 2015 election. (Source: UEC; created by Thibi)

The NLD’s biggest challenge here will likely come from PPP chairperson Daw Thet Thet Khine, who is contesting the Pyithu Hluttaw seat. The former NLD member and current MP for Dagon Township was suspended from the party in 2018 for criticising it in the media. She co-founded the PPP in 2019. 

Thet Thet Khine says she took part in the 1988 uprising against military rule, but before entering formal politics as an NLD candidate in 2015, she established herself as one of Myanmar’s most successful businesswomen. She still owns several large gem and jewellery companies, several of which are located in Mayangone – though she told Frontier that had nothing to do with her decision to run for the seat. 

No other parties seem to have made significant investments of time or money in Mayangone yet. On August 23, the PPP ran an eye care programme in the township’s third ward, giving out free prescription glasses to those who needed them.

All of these gifts, paid for with party funds, are just the PPP introducing itself to voters, Thet Thet Khine told Frontier on August 26.  

Thet Thet Khine, chairperson for the People's Pioneer Party, speaks with Frontier on August 26. (Thuya Zaw)
People’s Pioneer Party chair Daw Thet Thet Khine speaks with Frontier on August 26 about how she plans to defy the odds in Mayangone. (Thuya Zaw | Frontier)

“The NLD is a party made of one personality,” she said, in a clear reference to Aung San Suu Kyi. “We [in the PPP] are all scholar-practitioners,” she said, using the English phrase, before adding that she would beat the rival NLD candidate thanks to her superior education.

This hasn’t been enough to convince Moe Zaw Aung. Despite being disappointed with his current representatives, he said he’s still voting NLD because he wants to see Aung San Suu Kyi continue to lead the country. 

“Even though they’re trying to pay for votes with promotional items, the people won’t vote for their candidates,” he said, referring to the PPP. “People will decide on their own who they want to vote for.”

To win over U Kyi Wai Lin, the 44-year-old owner of an auto rental company, the PPP will need to emphasise its competence as practitioners more than scholars. His street floods every rainy season, and no one has done anything about it in the last five years, he said. 

“I want MPs who focus on the problem of flooding – in our ward and in the whole township,” he said.

Business owner U Kyi Wai Lin wants an MP who can help stop the flooding that blights his neighbourhood every rainy season. (Thuya Zaw | Frontier)

Despite the general disappointment or indifference shown by residents towards the township’s elected representatives, regional MP Daw Moe Moe Suu Kyi (Mayangone-2) won fans by opposing the “Mayangone Villa” mixed-used development project. 

The Yangon Region government had proposed the US$93 million commercial project, planned for an eight-acre plot near the 8 Mile junction, as part of the 2018-21 Urban Development Master Plan that it put to the regional parliament in May 2018. Local residents were concerned that its construction would involve filling in three lakes used for rainwater retention, which could exacerbate the annual flooding described by Kyi Wai Lin.

Construction has not begun on the villa project, but it hasn’t been cancelled, according to regional MP Yan Shin.

However, it’s far from certain whether this controversial development – or any other pressing local issue – will feature much in candidate campaigns that promise to veer between handouts and personality politics.

Thet Thet Khine said she doesn’t know much about the Mayangone Villa project and doesn’t intend to learn about it before the November poll.

“My main focus right now is winning the election,” she said, leaving it unclear what, if any, local issues she will take up in her campaign. Nationally, her party is campaigning on a pledge to increase people’s annual income by 20 percent.

But with most residents still professing loyalty to the party that ousted her, Thet Thet Khine appears to have an uphill battle ahead.

How voters turned out in 2015. (Source: UEC; created by Thibi)
Ye Mon

Ye Mon

Ye Mon started as a reporter at Pyithu Khit news journal in 2011. Prior to joining Frontier, he worked as a reporter at the Myanmar Times and on the DVB English team.
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