Myanmar’s political system can be characterized as a dominant Presidential party system. The rules of Myanmar’s parliamentary democracy under the 2008 Constitution heavily tilt in favor of the Executive, its ruling party, and the military, which takes up 25 percent of seats in Parliament.
In 2010 Elections, according to Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC), 42 out of 47 parties were approved to contest the election. According to the Political Party Registration Law, however, each party must field at least three candidates in the election to retain its status as a legally registered party. Five parties that failed to meet this minimum number of candidates were therefore disbanded: the Union Karen League, the Myanmar New Society Democratic Party, the Myanmar Democracy Congress, the Mro National Party and the Regional Development Party (Pyay).
As of August 2015, there are 89 registered political parties. Among this number, there are more than 40 ethnic based parties which reflect the complicated multi-ethnic structure of the country.
The Political Parties Registration Law provides the legal framework for the establishment and registration of political parties.
Before 2015 Elections, Myanmar has banned political parties from criticizing the army or the military-dominated constitution in state media during campaigning for elections. It is seen as a test of the country’s transition from military rule.
From the registered parties, there are only 4 that have national presence:
• Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), registered in 2010 by the Union Election Commission as a political party, is the successor to the Burmese government’s mass organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association. It is headed by Burmese President Thein Sein.
• National League for Democracy (NLD) is a democratic socialistic-liberal Burmese political party founded in 1988. Special Honorary President of the Socialist International and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi serves as its General Secretary.
• The National Unity Party (previously called the Burma Socialist Program Party) was formed by the military junta as well as members of the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) to take part in the general election of May 27, 1990.
• The National Democratic Force (NDF) also known as the United Democratic Front) was formed by former members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who chose to contest the 2010 general election.
Many parties focus on their ethnic base. Two-thirds of the parties represent minority ethnic groups, both the seven major ones that have their own states, 65 and smaller sub-minorities. This means parties tend to form around ethnic identities, not policies. Among these ethnic parties, the biggest are in Rakhine State and include the Arakan National Party (ANP), which enjoys strong support among the Rakhine Buddhists.
The ethnic parties try to coordinate among themselves on key issues. One avenue for working together is through the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation, which is a coalition of 25 ethnic parties.
Myanmar’s political parties tend not to be differentiated by their platforms. As in other Southeast Asian countries, politics is personalized and voters differentiate between parties based on their leaders. For example, voters are aware of the NLD’s leader—Aung San Suu Kyi—but not necessarily its position on issues. The same is true of the USDP; the only two members known to voters are Thein Sein, the incumbent president, and Shwe Mann, the speaker of the lower house of parliament and chairman of the party.
At the local level, the relationship between Myanmar political parties is distant and cautious. While many party members know each other personally, and often focus on the same local issues, cooperation between parties in any structured or strategic form is almost entirely absent. Cooperation between MPs within state/region parliaments and in relation to township level local development funds is more common. At the national level, the main cooperation between political parties is through the four party alliances: the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF); the Federal Democracy Alliance (FDA); the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA); and a recently established alliance of small Bamar parties.
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Antoni Slodkowski and Aung Hla Tun, Myanmar bans parties from criticising army in state media, Reuters, Aug 29, 2015,
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Susanne Kempel, Chan Myawe Aung Sun, Aung Tun, Myanmar Political Parties at a Time of Transition: Political party dynamics at the national and local level, Pyoe Pin Programme, Apr, 2015,
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Union Solidarity and Development Party, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Solidarity_and_Development_Party.
National League of Democracy, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_League_for_Democracy.
National Unity Party (Myanmar), Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Unity_Party_(Myanmar).
National Democratic Force, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Democratic_Force.