Thirty-five percent of 126,225 eligible voters cast ballots in Saturday’s by-election in Chaungzon Township, where a seat in the lower house of Myanmar’s parliament has been open since 2015. After a campaign characterized by apathy and frustration with the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), only 47,000 voters turned out, according to the local Election Sub-Commission.U Htun Yee, the chairman of the local election sub-commission in Chaungzon Township, said that turnout was low across the township, which sits on Bilugyun Island near the capital of Mon State, Mawlamyine. He said that in Kwan Yaing Village, for example, only 2,000 of 6,300 eligible residents voted, while of 7,300 eligible voters in Ka Nyor Village, only 300 turned out to vote.
“Most people in the township are not interested in the by-election, so only 35% voted,” said U Htun Yee.
While certainly low, turnout for the by-election was not so much lower than in the historic 2015 general election, considered the first largely free general election in modern Myanmar, also known as Burma). Turnout then was 44%, representing 56,573 of 127,249 eligible voters.
“Most residents of Chaungzon Township are primarily focused on their subsistence and livelihood. Whoever wins will need to focus on the needs of their constituents and promoting local development,” said Daw Khin Than Nu, a local resident.
The Chaungzon seat was left vacant shortly after the 2015 general election when its winner, NLD’s Daw Khin Htaw Kywel, was appointed to the Constitutional Tribunal. NLD has recently come under fire in Mon State for what many consider a heavy-handed approach to the issues of minority ethnic people. The party’s parliamentary majority recently voted, over local opposition, to name a bridge connecting Chaungzon Township to Mawlamyine for the country’s Burman independence leader General Aung San, provoking widespread protests.
That frustration showed on Saturday. The seat was won by U Aung Kyi Thein of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the heretofore widely unpopular political vehicle of some of Myanmar’s former ruling generals. He beat a crowded field of national and Mon candidates, including U Aye Win of the NLD, Nai Sein Mya Maung of the Mon National Party (MNP), U Win Htut of the All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMDP), and U Tint Wai from National Unity Party (NUP).