Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 06/2012

Burma/Myanmar's By-Elections: Will Personalities Trump Institutions?

Tin Maung Maung Than

April 2012

East-West Center


By-elections in electoral democracies usually elicit very little excitement beyond the affected constituencies. However, Burma/Myanmar’s recent by-elections held most of Asia and the West in rapt attention, with droves of international observers, media representatives, and curious foreigners flocking to Myanmar on an unprecedented scale. As anticipated, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won 43 of the 44 seats that it contested, subsequently hailed as the “victory of the people.” The lead-up, campaigning, and the actual voting, along with the post-election euphoria, resembled a regime-changing national election rather than a series of by-elections that secured the NLD a very minor 6.4 percent of the overall seats in the parliamentary Union Assembly’s Lower and Upper Houses. The current government of President U Thein Sein most likely regarded these by-elections as a means of legitimizing its mandate to govern and enhance its own reform credentials.