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Politics

Myanmar pro-democracy forces form new parties as elections loom

Ex-NLD lawmaker criticizes Suu Kyi for lack of democracy within ruling party

Aung San Suu Kyi's popularity has been waning as Myanmar's de facto leader proves ineffective at curtailing the military's political influence.

YANGON -- Some lawmakers who have grown disgruntled with Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy are adding to Myanmar's political landscape in a way that could give the dominant party something to think about ahead of elections scheduled to take place on Nov. 8.

The NLD maintains a lead over military-affiliated and small ethnic parties but now also has to worry about its left flank as some pro-democracy politicians splinter away.

The NLD is led by State Counselor Suu Kyi, the country's de facto leader. Her party won 80% of the seats in the 2015 general election with a promise of breaking away from military rule. But Suu Kyi's clout has been partially diminished, although few people doubt the NLD will win most of the contested seats.

Suu Kyi's waning influence is evidenced by the fact that the People's Pioneer Party, or the PPP, will participate in the general election. Among the PPP's three founders is Thet Thet Khine, a female entrepreneur, lower house lawmaker and formerly of the NLD.

In an interview with Eleven Media in early July, Thet Thet Khine criticized Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders. "There is no democracy inside the party," she said. "It's leaders are not loyal to the democratic system."

The PPP has been criticizing the NLD's handling of the government since it took power in 2015, including the slow pace of economic reforms and deteriorating press freedoms.

The preelection registration period for new candidates began on Monday.

Ko Ko Gyi, former leader of the 1988 democratic uprising, also known as the "8888 uprising," has established the People's Party. He could not win an endorsement from the NLD in 2015.

Ex-general and former Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann, who had been close to Suu Kyi, has also set off on his own, having formed the Union Betterment Party.

The new parties are small but could grab votes from the NLD in single-seat districts.

In most constituencies, the NLD will be challenged by the military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party, the country's largest opposition party, as well as several ethnic parties.

Myanmar's Union Election Commission will accept candidacies until Aug. 7, and a list of candidates will be finalized by Aug. 17. A nearly two-month election campaign kicks off in early September.

In the election, voters will select 498 of the bicameral Union Parliament's 664 lawmakers; the military handpicks 24% of the lawmakers.

To maintain a majority in both houses, the NLD will have to win more than two-thirds of the contested seats. Like 70% of Myanmar's population, Suu Kyi, the daughter of independence hero Gen. Aung San, is an ethnic Burman. Her life story and charisma have helped her gain widespread popularity.

Suu Kyi's acclaim, however, has been ebbing due to her inability to curb the military's political influence. Minority and many other groups who had been oppressed by the military are now disappointed with Suu Kyi.

The country's sluggish economy, meanwhile, has been dragged down further by the coronavirus pandemic.

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