Aung San Suu Kyi faces first test of popularity as Myanmar goes to polls for by-elections

Nandini Krishnamoorthy

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi faces the first test of popularity as the country goes to polls for by-elections on Saturday (1 April) for the first time since her party, National League for Democracy (NLD), swept to power a year ago.

While only 19 seats are up for grabs, the by-elections will indicate the public feeling about Suu Kyi's one-year old regime. It is said that the government is struggling to match the huge expectations after it won the country's first open elections.

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Suu Kyi has received widespread criticisms both in Myanmar and abroad over the growing clashes between armed ethnic groups and security forces, and slower economic growth.

The vacant seats are to be filled both in the national and regional parliaments. Few seats became vacant because the lawmakers took another position in the government or after a parliamentarian died. Also some seats were not contested in the November 2015 general election due to security concerns in the area, which forced the voting to be cancelled.

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However, the outcome of the by-elections will not affect the balance of power within the parliament, which has a majority of NLD lawmakers.

While over two million people – less than 5% of Myanmar's population - are registered to vote on Saturday, the turnout is expected to be low as the polls have reportedly not caused the same excitement or engagement among the public that was seen at the 2015 general election, AP noted.

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The results are expected to be announced late on Saturday (1 April).

The by-elections offer a chance to weigh in Suu Kyi administration's popularity in Myanmar as countrywide public polls are not available. But the NLD party seemed to have faced difficulties while campaigning due to language issues.

Win Htein, one of the party's top leaders, said communicating with the armed rebels in restive Shan state was a task.

"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," Reuters cited him as saying said.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Intense fighting between the rebels and the government forces in the northern part of the country is reported to have led to more than 20,000 people seeking refuge in neighbouring China. The rebels in the border towns have refused to engage in Suu Kyi government's peace process.

Besides, Suu Kyi's handling of the conflicts in the restive Rakhine state too got her and the NLD party negative criticisms. Myanmar's government and soldiers have been accused of committing summary executions, burning homes of the Rohingya community and raping women since an alleged military operation was launched to drive the community out of the state.

However, the government has denied all allegations levelled against it and the Nobel Peace Prize winner rubbished reports from news outlets and human rights groups as fabricated. She has long insisted that the Rakhine state issue is an internal matter.

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