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5 Things to Know About Myanmar's Election

(Photo: AFP)

September 13, 2015

Myanmar is holding its first general election under the country’s reformist government on Nov. 8, expected to be the freest and fairest vote the country has seen in decades.

The closely watched election–campaigning for which begins Tuesday–will be a crucial marker in the country’s transition away from harsh military rule to a more democratic system led by a civilian government. Here are five things to know about the elections.

#1: The elections will be imperfect

Myanmar’s constitution reserves a quarter of parliament seats for military generals, hand-picked by the commander-in-chief, so only 75% of representatives will be democratically elected by the people. Further, the Rohingya and other Muslim minorities will be disenfranchised for the first time in the country’s electoral history, after the government canceled their identification documents and revoked their right to vote earlier this year.

#2: The vote will be competitive

More than 90 parties with more than 6,000 candidates are competing. The current dominance of the military-linked Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is now the largest party in the legislature and forms the government, will be challenged — particularly by Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy. This is the first general election the NLD will be competing in since 1990. In by-elections in 2012, Ms. Suu Kyi’s party won 43 out of 44 contested seats, but analysts say the results now might not be as conclusive.

#3: It's not a presidential election

The elections will determine the shape of Myanmar’s 660-person legislature but not the president. According to the country’s political system, the president isn’t directly elected by the people but will be selected by the parliamentarians voted in after November. The new president doesn’t have to be selected until next March.

#4: Suu Kyi won't become president

Though the NLD is widely expected to pick up more seats in these election, Ms. Suu Kyi can’t become president because Myanmar’s constitution bars anyone with close foreign family members from assuming the top post. Ms. Suu Kyi was married to a Briton and has two sons with foreign nationalities. There is no clear frontrunner for the presidency, and Myanmar will likely enter a long period of horse-trading after the November vote.

#5: Campaigning, which starts Tuesday, will be robust

Ms. Suu Kyi has already started holding large rallies around the country, and the USDP’s ousted chairman, Shwe Mann, has also been campaigning in his hometown. Religion is expected to play a big role in this election, as ultra-nationalist, anti-Muslim monks become a more powerful political force in Myanmar.

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