Ultranationalists who campaigned on a platform of Buddhist supremacy suffered resounding defeats on November 8 as their movement once again failed to pose a serious electoral threat to the National League for Democracy (NLD).
Not a single Buddhist extremist candidate out of 230 who competed for smaller parties managed to win a seat in this year’s election, a list compiled by Myanmar Now shows.
The opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lost eight seats in Myanmar’s national legislature, leaving it with just 33 representatives there. And it came away this year with 71 seats in regional and state legislatures, down from 73 in 2015.
The figures could be read optimistically as a sign that public support for Buddhist extremist ideas is weaker than some observers feared. A less rosy interpretation is that voters with nationalist sympathies simply feel the NLD represents their views, so don’t see the need to support outsider parties.
State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s staunch support for the military’s 2017 campaign against the Rohingya, which many have labelled a genocide, enabled her government to present itself as a defender of the national interest against foreign interference.
Buddhist nationalist candidates this year hailed from several parties including the Peace and Diversity Party, the National Prosperity Party, the National Democratic Force Party, and the Democratic Party of National Politics.
Michael Kyaw Myint, who was jailed last year for leading an anti-Muslim mob that shut down Ramadan prayers, received just 437 votes for his bid to win a seat in South Dagon, where there are more than 200,000 eligible voters.
Twenty-three other candidates competed in Yangon, Mandalay, Sagaing, Bago and Naypyitaw for his Yeomanry Development Party but also lost badly.
Party chair Aye Aye Thin, who is also Michael Kyaw Myint’s wife, only received 181 valid votes in Shwe Pyi Thar township, where there are 97,905 eligible voters.
This year’s poor performance was because of restrictions on campaigning amid a surge in Covid-19 cases , said Aye Aye Thin, and the party will compete again in the 2025 election.
“The results reflect the level of exposure we had with the public during a campaign period that wasn’t fair,” she told Myanmar Now. “And we’re a new party, but we are satisfied with the results.”
Former MP Khin Wine Kyi, a well-known nationalist who was a key force behind the racist Interfaith Marriage Law under President Thein Sein, lost her bid for a seat on a USDP ticket in Dawbon township.
She received 5,515 votes while her NLD opponent Han Soe won with over 38,000 votes.
In Sagaing’s Mingin township, senior USDP official Maung Myint lost the seat that he had held since 2010 to the NLD.
Naing Thu Latt and Khaing Zay Min Htet, both former members of the Buddhist extremist group Ma Ba Tha, lost their bids to win seats for the People’s Pioneer Party.
Naing Thu Latt picked up 956 votes in Insein township, where there are about 170,000 eligible voters, while Khaing Zay Min Htet received 2,839 votes in Hlaing Tharyar township. The NLD’s Aye Bo won that seat with 279,866 votes.
In Loikaw township in Kayah State, Mann Aung of the Democratic Party of National Politics only received 263 votes after warning voters on Facebook that they could be responsible for “the death of Buddhism” if they chose the wrong candidate.