Burma: Suu Kyi govt retains strongholds but loses minority backing during polls
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Burma: Suu Kyi govt retains strongholds but loses minority backing during polls

BURMA’S leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s one-year-old government has retained support in its Yangon strongholds, but lost backing from ethnic minority areas that helped boost her party to election victory following a by-election on Saturday.

In the country’s first vote since it swept to power a year ago, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won nearly half of the seats contested in the by-election,  an early indication of support for her administration amid increased fighting with ethnic armed groups and slower economic growth.

The NLD won nine out of 19 seats in the national and regional parliaments, according to the Union Election Commission, following a period in which she has struggled to match sky-high expectations.

According to the AFP (via Channel News Asia), while the NLD wrested power from half a century of brutal military rule in the historic 2015 poll, discontentment has grown amid the government’s struggle to introduce democratic reforms, revamp Burma’s economy and resolve conflict in border regions.

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While the outcome of the by-elections will not affect the balance of power within the Parliament, where the NLD enjoys a large majority, it offers a chance to gauge the popularity of the administration in a country where nationwide public polls are not available.

Saturday’s by-election, however, did not threaten the NLD’s comfortable majority as less than five per cent of the population were eligible voters of races to fill seats of incumbents who joined the government in ministerial posts.

And while the results that came in on Sunday showed strong support from the heartland areas, the outcome of the poll showed disillusionment among minorities who have been under the rule of the dominant Bamar ethnic group to which Suu Kyi belongs, AFP reported.

The results announced by Union Election Commission chairman Hla Thein showed the NLD fared well in its strongholds around the Yangon commercial capital, winning seats in nine races, including in central regions further north.

Suu Kyi’s party suffered bruises in more remote areas, in particular regions of unrest that has seen violence from insurgents despite the government’s pledge to end decades of strife in minority areas.

In a televised address earlier this week, Suu Kyi acknowledged the public’s frustration with the slow pace of reforms and development.

But she also reiterated her top priority was to end the ethnic conflicts that have kept Myanmar in a state of near-perpetual civil war.

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Win Htein, one of the NLD’s top leaders, said the party faced language barriers and problems with armed groups in the Shan state districts being contested. Fighting in some of those areas has intensified in recent months.

“We are still improving in Shan state. The local people don’t understand Burmese, so we have to translate our policies into the Shan language,” he said.

Major rebel armies engaged in clashes with the military in areas, including the Shan state, have refused to actively participate in Suu Kyi’s peace process.

Several conflicts have reignited since Suu Kyi took office, displacing an estimated 160,000 more people, according to the United Nations.

Over two million voters, less than five percent of the country’s population, could vote in the by-elections where seats in eight states and regions across the country were up for grabs.

“We still accept the NLD government after one year. They are governing smoothly,” said Victor Hla Sein, a 73-year-old from Myanmar’s commercial hub Yangon.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi is also facing international criticism for her government’s handling of a crisis in the Muslim-majority Rakhine region, where soldiers have blocked access for aid workers and are accused of raping and killing civilians.

Some seats that were excluded from previous elections due to fighting with ethnic armed groups were also up for grabs.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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