August 20, 2016

Analyzing the History of Elections in Myanmar

Tommy Pauk       

Elections are important for democratic societies around the world. When people are losing political rights and participations, they seem to be lifeless and meaningless in a society. It is obviously universal that elections can be lively and powerful when people escape from regimes or inefficient leadership in some societies. We often hear and learn from the world news about the elections being held in various countries except the countries under the dictators and military regimes. In fact, elections are bridges between the people’s wishes and the governments’ implementation on the wishes or desires of the people concerned. Elections breed or produce leaders and legitimate governments. In some countries, governments are directly selected by the despotic rulers so there is no bridge, known as election. Undeniably, the elections are activated by the majority votes of people to choose right candidates to take seats in parliaments. Thus they are called parliamentary elections. In other words, elections are considered as the peoples’ weapon to fight against the despotic rulers or topple the rulers who are undeserved for the leadership role or to choose the citizens who deserve the leadership role.  In advanced democratic societies, elections are the paths for people’s representatives to implement or materialize the people’s hope, aspiration and desires democratically. Normally, megalomaniac dictators and illegitimate governments are pretty scared of holding free, fair and credible elections. They don’t usually respect and recognize the results of the elections and they are usually against the will of the majority of people indeed. Sometimes, the elections have been rigged or manipulated by the government or ruling party in some countries. The foreign observers or even UN observers are deployed in a certain country to ensure the elections are not rigged. The eligible voters of citizens must know the electoral processes precisely so that their enfranchisement cannot be lost or cheated.
Let’s take a look at the history of Elections held in Myanmar
after regaining its own independence from the British colonialists.
Remarkably, from 1946 to 1951, there had been an interim government formed with the approval of the British Governor named Sir Hubert Elvin Rance. It consisted of Bamar leaders and other ethnic leaders. N.B from 1946 to January, 04, 1948,
Myanmar was still under the British colony. The national hero, General Aung San, was one of the cabinet members and he served as Defense Minister cum Foreign Affairs Minister. Then General Aung San and the leaders of national brethren had written the constitution in 1947. Tragically, General Aung San and some of the cabinet ministers were assassinated on 19 July, 1947.
In 1948, Myanmar regained its own independence from the British colonialists. Then the Union of Myanmar government had ruled its people and protected its sovereignty, independence and territory. Until the beginning of 1951, no general elections had been held whatsoever. Nevertheless, there had been a number of political parties, working on their stance, principles and manifestos for nation building tasks since 1944. The most powerful party was Anti-fascists Peoples’ Freedom league. The second most powerful party was National United Front and the rest are ethnic parties, workers’ party and Peasants’ party etc.
The government had striven hard for everlasting independence and democracy in Myanmar. They intended to establish parliamentary democracy and to maintain the sustainable union solidarity in the nation. Therefore, the government of the Union of Myanmar conducted the first multi-party general elections in Myanmar on the 12th June of 1951.This was the significant event as well as democratic practice in Myanmar. At that time, multi-colored insurgency was prevalent in some states and divisions in Myanmar. Therefore, the period of nationwide general elections lasted for six months due to the unrest or disturbances of insurgencies.
Eventually, the free and fair elections had been held successfully. Approximately, ten parties had contested the elections. The two popular political parties among them were AFPFL; Anti-fascists Peoples’ Freedom league (Pha-sa-pa-la) and NUF; National United Front (pa-ma-nya-ta).  AFPFL won the majority vote and formed the democratic government. Prime Minister was U Nu.
The second parliamentary elections were held on the 27th of April 1956 in accord with 1974 constitution. The general elections were held successfully. AFPFL won the elections again. Prime Minister was U Nu. In 1958, the military caretaker government, headed by General Ne Win, took the state power to restore law and order because the armed insurrection against the elected government was rampant in some states and countryside. On the 6th of February 1960, the third parliamentary elections were held by military caretaker government. AFPFL had split into factions—Clean AFPFL and Stable AFPFL. Both rival factions contested the elections with other ethnic parties. Clean AFPFL won the elections. Prime Minister was U Nu.
The successive elections revealed that Myanmar leaders respected the people’s aspirations and political rights to choose the able representatives or right representatives for the parliaments. In that period, the eligible voters in Myanmar had been given rights to cast the votes freely and willingly. From 1951 to 1960, three historic general elections were held to form legitimate governments successfully. All these elections were recorded as free, fair and credible events in Myanmar history. There had been mutual respect and mutual trust between the governments and people in Myanmar in the above-stated periods. The country’s economy was much more prosperous than any other countries in South East Asia and its education standard was distinctively high. The fame and glory of Rangoon University was one of the proofs of education status in Myanmar in these periods.
On the 2nd March of 1962, a group of the military leaders led by General Ne Win seized the state power. That group was named as The Revolutionary Council. The then junta ordered all the political parties in Myanmar to be abolished. No elections were held between 1962 and 1973. The junta founded a single-political-party called Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP).
The new state constitution was adopted in 1973. The referendum was also held on 15 December 1973. So, the constitution came into effect in 1974. The socialist Republic of the Union of Myanmar was an official name in accord with the constitution and the BSPP was a single-political-party which led the country. BSPP held some elections with no rival parties for selecting BSPP members to be posted in executive power, judicial power and legislative power. BSPP, the ruling party, had claimed the manifesto to the world that Burma would march towards the Burmese way to socialism. However, the elections for Pyithu Hluttaw (People’s Assemblies) representatives and the People’s Council representatives were held every four year a period between 1974 and 1986. They were indeed not multi-party general elections, but the elections for people’s representatives, who must be members of the Burma Socialist Programme Party, to attend People’s Assemblies. The regime came to an end in 1988 due to the country’s economic decline. As a result, Myanmar was listed in the index of LDC in the world. During the government of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Myanmar era, majority of eligible voters did vote for so-called people’s representative in elections unenthusiastically.

The government mechanism was totally paralyzed due to boycott by all government employees across the country. The junta took the power to restore the law and order on 08.09.1988. The government was named as State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). The 1974 constitution was abolished by SLORC. The SLORC had pledged to hold the free and fair multi-party democracy general elections and allowed the citizens to set up or register the political parties officially. The SLORC held the multi-party general election on 27 may 1990. National League for Democracy, National Unity Party and other ethnic parties had contested the elections. National League for Democracy had set for a land slide victory. The event was recognized as a free and fair election by international communities. The entire eligible voters of Myanmar people had cast their ballots for right representatives for the democratic parliament hopefully, lively and enthusiastically. The entire Myanmar people desired or wished or aspired for democracy. People’s expectation could be materialized through free and fair elections because these elections bring out elected government or legitimate government democratically.
In 2008, the new state constitution was adopted by junta and they held the referendum for it. A period between 1988 and 2009 was the era of junta (SPDC) in Myanmar. In 2010, the first multi-party general elections were held for parliaments stipulated by 2008 constitution. Union Solidarity and Development Party won the elections for democratic parliaments. The 25% of seats in the parliament are to be taken by military representatives (defense services personnel) nominated by Commander-in- Chief of the Defense Services in accord with 2008 constitution. In 2012, by-elections were held. NLD party won the by-elections and some seats in the parliaments. The constitutional governments were formed in Myanmar to exercise good governance and clean government. The political reforms and economic reforms have been carried out by the government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Union Solidarity and Development Party stood as a ruling party and its members were selected for the cabinet.
The second multi-party general election was held on 8 November 2015 nationwide in accord with 2008 constitution. This time, NLD party has set a land slide victory. NLD party has won the land slide victory twice in the history of elections in Myanmar. Her party’s victories have marked an important milestone in the history of elections in Myanmar indeed. Both of NLD’s historic victories represent the decision of the majority of people in Myanmar democratically. The party has won the elections democratically and fairly. The eligible voters of citizens have wholeheartedly expressed their will and chose the right people’s representatives for upcoming sessions of the parliaments. We, the ordinary people have to wait and see what might happen to the fair-victory of NLD in the very near future. Some people feel skeptical and concerned about the process of handing over the power from current government to NLD. Anyway, people must have positive attitudes towards present political changes and scenario. We can learn a lot of good and bad lessons from history of elections held in different eras in Myanmar from 1948 to date. The winning party members of NLD must not hold grudges against others. The ruling party must hand over the power to NLD, the winning party democratically and honestly. Thus the winners and the losers would be able to shake hands each other. Wishing Myanmar people a prosperous change with happiness and peace!!!


About the author
Tommy Pauk is the pesudonym of U Thein Swe, who is B.A (English) and (Registered Law) R.L I. degrees holder. He has English teaching experience  at Yangon University English Department and Workers’ College in Yangon, and now is working as freelance writer and English Teacher cum Translator/Interpreter for foreign firms.


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