By Aye Nai
A 10-strong alliance of parties that competed in the November 2010 elections admit they face a tough fight to out-muscle the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) in looming by-elections in Burma.
The NLD will field candidates in all 48 constituencies where seats are up for grabs. Included among them is revered leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who commands widespread support across Burma and who is likely to win her constituency in Kawhmu, south of Rangoon.
The Democratic Party Myanmar is one member of the Myanmar Fraternal Democratic Parties alliance, which has picked 19 candidates. Its chairman, Thu Wei, said the group met yesterday to thrash out strategies for the 1 April vote, adding that the 10 parties “will have to compete with them [NLD] democratically”.
The by-elections are likely to be a hot contest between the NLD and so-called ‘third force’ parties, such as Democratic Party Myanmar and the alliance’s other members, including the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party and Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, which came third and fourth in the 2010 polls.
Government-backed politicians will also face stiff competition from the NLD, which won resoundingly in the 1990 elections but was never allowed to take office. Parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann has promised the by-elections will be free and fair, following criticism from the west that the 2010 vote was a sham.
Suu Kyi will be up against former Rangoon mayor Aung Thein Linn in Kawhmu, which was severely damaged by cyclone Nargis in 2008 and whose residents will remember well the woeful government response to the disaster.
Also among NLD candidates is Phyo Min Thein, who was due to compete in the 2010 elections for the Union Democratic Party before he announced her would boycott the poll, citing government intimidation of voters.
Suu Kyi has stressed her wish to see more females compete in April. Only a handful of the 1,000-plus MPs in Burma are women, and none were elected to cabinet positions.
Phyu Phyu Thin, the popular female HIV/AIDS activist, will compete in Mingalar Taungnyunt township in Rangoon, one of around 12 women put forward for the vote by the NLD.
How much influence the party will be able to wield in parliament remains to be seen, given the dominance of military officials and the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which won around 80 percent of the vote in 2010.