More than one dozen parties register to compete in junta-controlled election

Myanmar nationals in Japan protest against an election in their homeland held under the military in 2010 (GettyImages)

Thirteen political parties have registered to participate in an election under the junta, regime-controlled newspapers reported on Tuesday. 

The announcement came one month after the military council enacted the Political Parties Registration Law requiring parties to register within 60 days or be abolished and have their assets confiscated.

Five of the parties in question are reportedly running for office in multiple locations throughout the country as “union-level” entities, requiring them to open offices of the party in at least 165 townships within six months of registration. Eight others registered in one respective state or region. 

Nine of the parties opted to keep names that they had previously used, and four registered under new titles.

According to data released by the junta-controlled election commission, pro-military parties such as the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National Unity Party (NUP) were among those that recently registered, as were groups that had formed during and since the 2010 elections, which were also held under army rule. 

The National Democratic Force (NDF), a breakaway group from the National League for Democracy (NLD), is reportedly “making preparations to register as a union-level party,” its secretary Nan Htike Zaw told Myanmar Now, referencing a decision made at a February 18 conference.

The NLD did not participate in the 2010 election, but later won a majority in 2015 and 2020. The military declared the most recent voting results void after staging a coup in February 2021, ousting the civilian government on the unsubstantiated claim that they committed electoral fraud.

Several NLD leaders including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and state and regional chief ministers have been imprisoned since the takeover. Under the current junta’s registration law, the NLD is barred from participating in the election, as no party may have as its members individuals who are serving jail terms or who are affiliated with entities deemed “unlawful associations.” 

In order to comply with the requirements, the NLD would need to declare that the party is in no way associated with the publicly mandated National Unity Government, and dismiss Suu Kyi, Win Myint and many other jailed officials.

The same condition was once featured in a 2010 party registration law enacted by former military ruler Than Shwe.

The party has declared that it would not “defy the will of the people” and operate under a military-controlled electoral framework. 

Former NDF chair and military council member Khin Maung Swe was among several veteran party members who resigned after objecting to the move to take part in the upcoming election. Nan Htike Zaw added that general secretary Aung Zin, secretary Toe Toe and central executive committee member Thet Tun Zaw also stepped down. 

“They wanted to register only as a state- or region-level party and that’s why they quit,” he said. 

In 2010, the USDP claimed a landslide victory despite widespread accusations of voter fraud and allegations from observers that the election was neither free nor fair. Nan Htike Zaw contested for the chance to represent Mandalay’s Tada-U Township that year, but lost to the USDP’s Lt-Gen Tin Aye, who himself stepped down one year later to chair the military’s election commission at that time. 

When asked about the upset, Nan Htike Zaw said that he did not believe history would repeat itself, and dismissed the legitimacy of the most recent elections won by the NLD. 

“We are living under current conditions that are repercussions of the 2020 general election,” he said, adding, in reference to allegations of corruption in 2010, “I trust that [the military] wouldn’t want to make such gross mistakes again.” 

Another forthcoming national party may soon be registered combining two entities: the People’s Party (PP) formed by former 1988-generation pro-democracy activist Ko Ko Gyi, and the National United and Democratic Party (NUDP) established by ex-NLD parliamentarian Sein Win. 

“We are going to completely abolish the NUDP and join forces with the PP. The abolishment is going to happen very soon and we will try our best to register our party as a union-level party,” Sein Win said. 

Other parties currently registered to partake in an election under the junta are the Pa-O National Organisation headed by Aung Kham Hti, who is closely tied to the military council; the Arakan Front Party under Rakhine politician Dr Aye Maung. Two other ethnic political parties also registered: the Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party and the New Democracy Party (Kachin). 

Sai Aik Pao—a Shan politician who left the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy after the party boycotted the 2010 election, subsequently founding the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party—also recently registered a union-level entity: the “Shan and Ethnic Democratic Party.”

The United Democratic Party, headed by Kyaw Myint—currently incarcerated for breaking out of prison and for money laundering—was also found to have changed its name slightly to the Union Democracy Party in its re-registration. An earlier party with the same name was once founded by former Yangon Region chief minister Phyo Min Thein before he joined the NLD. 

The New National Democracy Party of junta’s advisory council member Thein Nyunt also registered under the same name.

While junta chief Min Aung Hlaing initially promised that a vote would take place this year, few endorsed the suggestion of an electoral contest under his regime. On February 1, the second anniversary of the coup, he said that the country was not ready to hold a general election with an “accurate” voter list and “free” polls, since nearly half of the more than 300 townships in Myanmar lacked security and stability.

The junta continues to face fierce opposition from anti-regime armed groups nationwide, and personnel collecting household information to compile voter lists have been recently targeted in repeated attacks by these resistance forces.