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Ethnic Political Parties in Kachin State Grapple With Electoral Losses

vote counting at Myityina polling station

After the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) won the majority of votes across the country in Burma’s general election, ethnic parties in Kachin State are exploring why they did not perform as well as they had hoped.

With a total of 70 parliamentary seats and ethnic affairs ministerial posts up for grabs, the NLD won 47, as well as three of the ministerial positions, and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won 10 legislative seats.

This left the Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP) with four seats, the New Democracy Party-Kachin with two seats, and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), the Lisu National Democratic Party (LNDP), and an independent candidate with one seat each. The LNDP won the Lisu ethnic affairs ministerial post.

The Tai-Leng National Development Party (TNDP) didn’t win any seats in Kachin State.

The KSPP had expected to win in areas with a large ethnic Kachin population, but even in its stronghold, Sumprabum Township, it lost one constituency to the USDP.

Gumgrawng Awng Hkam, who lost the Lower House race in Sumprabum to the USDP by just 94 votes, blamed the combination of large numbers of ballots cast by soldiers and by domestic migrant workers for his loss.

“We, the KSPP, expected to win a landslide victory in Sumprabum but it didn’t happen. We got a few votes. Local people did their duty,” he told KNG. “The reason of why we didn’t win in Sumprabum is that people from central Burma have come to live there. According to my experience, it’s also connected to soldiers’ advance voting.”

Gumgrawng Awng Hkam didn’t sign Form 19 signifying he accepted the election results for Sumprabum Township.

More than 400 soldiers arrived in Sumprabum Township three months before election day, and their votes were counted for that township.

“The USDP won in Sumprabum with the ballots of soldiers. If we remove the soldiers’ ballots, we can clearly see the other ballots. There was no free and fair election,” Sumprabum local Sam Naw told KNG, estimating that “90 percent of local people” voted for the KSPP.

N’jai Naw Ja, the electoral candidate for the Kachin National Congress (KNC) in Sumprabum, said that the law that allows domestic migrants to vote for representatives in their host constituency is what cost ethnic parties votes.

“We saw that the migrant worker population was much more than the indigenous people. Ethnic political parties have suffered the consequences of [this]. Our KNC party repeatedly tried to dissolve this by-law. Media outlets already knew it. I think if all parties had opposed it, ethnic people wouldn’t have lost their votes,” N’jai Naw Ja told KNG.

The KNC party didn’t win any seats in the general election, but will continue to oppose the laws that they say change the demographics of Kachin State voting, and will ally with Kachin political parties in the future.

Sai Htay Aung, chairperson of the ethnic Shanni TNDP, said that he expected his party to win at least some seats in the election, after winning in two constituencies in Sagaing Region in 2015 general election. They lost these seats in 2020.

“The reason of why ethnic political parties lost is that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has influence on the people of Burma. Many people believe in her. Many people believe that ethnic political parties can not form a government. Many people believe that ethnic parties can not change the 2008 constitution,” he told KNG.

The SNLD won in Constituency 2 in Mansi Township for the state parliament.

“I think political parties from central Burma have a lot of influence in this region. The Union Election Commission has not been fair,” Sai Kyaw Thiha, the SNLD’s candidate for Momauk Township, told KNG.

Saji, who is working with the Kachin Development Network Group (KDNG), blamed vote splitting for the ethnic parties’ losses, as well as defamatory comments by larger parties.

“Ethnic people are minorities in their respective states… People have a lack of political experience and knowledge. People think that ethnic parties cannot form a government and ethnic parties cannot take down dictators. Some ethnic parties were attacked. That’s why they lost many votes,” he explained. “There are many political parties in Kachin State, so ballots went to different parties. Ethnic political parties were unable to win the election. I think Kachin parties need to be united amongst themselves.”

Ethnic political parties also reported difficulties campaigning during the COVID-19 period, and said that the circumstances and associated restrictions gave the incumbent NLD an advantage.

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