The results of the historic national election held in November 2015 have not met voter expectations. Frustrated by the poor performance of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the ruling party, and its undemocratic mode of governance, the call for an alternative third party to run in the next general election is growing, in order to prevent the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) from coming to power again.
Myanmar’s nascent electoral politics, which emerged in late 2010 after a half-century of two consecutive military regimes, has been dominated by only two parties at the national level. First is the USDP, composed largely of powerful retired and former military officers. It was in power for the previous five-year term. Second is the NLD, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate and democracy icon who was placed under house arrest for fifteen years by the military dictators.
The NLD witnessed a landslide victory in the 2015 election, the first free and fair electoral process in 25 years. It occupied the majority of seats in both houses and was easily able to form the new government. However, the constitution prohibited Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming the president because her late husband and children are foreign citizens. She assumed the newly created role of state counsellor, similar to a prime minister, while her confidant, U Htin Kyaw, was chosen as the president. When it comes to making policy or acting as head of state, however, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi holds sway. It is well known that she sits “above the president.” This situation is not tenable in the long run.
The people of Myanmar put a lot of faith in the NLD when they came out to vote. Urban elites, intellectuals, and the expanding middle class collectively believed that the NLD would make real changes to end the decades-long military dominance and start a new, open, democratic political process. Under new leadership, it was hoped that the economy would improve and government institutions would modernise the country. Among people attuned to political events, there is now a widespread feeling that the expectations of the electorate have not been realised. The NLD-controlled cabinet and parliament have yet to make much significant progress. The NLD governs by making deals with the military, while turning a deaf ear to the calls for change from a chorus of democratic voices. Many of the “88 Generation” student group leaders who fought for democracy alongside the NLD in 1988 protests now feel that they have been abandoned by their former compatriots. Indeed, leaders of civil society organisations (CSOs) have complained that the space for civil society is narrowing under the new government. It is extremely difficult to work with the NLD-dominant Union parliament. Some government officials view CSOs as troublemakers because they think these organisations make unconstructive noise about what the protesters see as critical issues. Officials fail to appreciate that CSOs play a critical role in making the transition to democracy successful.
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