Myanmar military aims to further solidify grip on power

The Associated Pres
A small group of protesters against the military government that ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this year raise their hands with the three-finger protest gesture during a flash mob rally in Thaketa township in Yangon on Nov. 6.

One year has passed since the general election in Myanmar, in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory on Nov. 8 last year . The military, which later seized power in a coup, is now preparing to change the electoral system to disadvantage the NLD. The military wants to hold another election and to inaugurate a new military-led government.

 In last year’s general elections, the NLD won an overwhelming victory with 396 seats out of a combined total of 664 in the upper and lower houses of parliament, more than enough to form a single-party majority. Meanwhile, the military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won only 33 seats. The military claimed irregularities and demanded a recount of the vote. The NLD refused, and the military launched its coup on Feb. 1.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The military has already announced its intention to hold another election in 2023, and it seems to be serious about changing the election system. In last year’s general election, seats in both the upper and lower houses of parliament, not including a military quota, were contested on a constituency basis. It is said that the military has already decided to introduce a proportional representation system while reducing the number of seats in the constituency system.

In a proportional representation system, seats are allocated according to the percentage of votes a party receives, making it easier for small parties to win seats. Diplomatic sources have suggested that the military’s aims are to prevent a party like the NLD from winning a landslide victory, to increase the number of seats held by the USDP, which does receive a certain amount of votes, and to form a coalition with ethnic minority parties to achieve a majority.

 According to a state-run newspaper in Myanmar on Nov. 7, the election commission established by the national army held a meeting with representatives of political parties in the largest city, Yangon, on Nov. 6 to discuss changes to the electoral system. The state-run newspaper reported that some ethnic minority parties expressed the opinion that it was necessary to introduce a proportional representation system and allow more than one political party to participate in the parliament.

 The state-run newspaper’s report seems to be intended to emphasize that the small parties support the proportional representation system, and to show that the change in the electoral system is not a unilateral decision by the army, but an agreement with those parties.

 The military is in the process of disbanding the NLD on the supposed grounds that it committed fraud in the general election. Suu Kyi and other detained executives will not be able to run in the proposed do-over election if they are found guilty in court.

It is possible for the democratic groups to form a new political party and run for repeat election, but a political analyst in Myanmar believes that “supporters of democracy will not recognize the military-led election and instead will boycott it.” However, the analyst believes that the military will still hold the election to show that “democratic procedures were followed” and to justify the formation of a new military-led government.