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NLD victory confirmed

The Union Election Commission has confirmed that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy has won more than 75 percent of all contested seats in what was a historic and remarkably peaceful election in Myanmar.

After reports of “unnamed election heroes that trekked through the mountains carrying ballot papers from remote areas in Kachin state”, the Union Election Commission (UEC) has now announced the final results of the November 8 parliamentary elections in Myanmar. Just as the early reports suggested, the National League for Democracy (NLD) has secured an overwhelming victory.

Overall, NLD won a total of 887 of the 1150 seats (both national and regional) contested during the elections, amounting to a total of 77.1 percent of the contested seats. Meanwhile, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USPD) secured a total of 117 (or 10.2 percent) seats. Counting in the 25 percent of parliamentary seats occupied by military representatives, NLD now holds 58.7 percent of the seats and constitutes an absolute majority in Myanmar’s two-chamber parliament. In the lower house, Pyithu Hluttaw, NLD took 77.9 percent of the seats, and in the upper house, Amyotha Hluttaw, NLD won 80.3 percent of the seats.

Furthermore, support for NLD is seen nationwide, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s party now holding absolute majorities in all seven regional parliaments, as well as in three state parliaments, whereas USDP kept their absolute majority in Shan State.

2015 Amyotha Hluttaw 2015 Pyithu Hluttaw

(Myanmar Times, 24 November 2015)

More women and youth in parliament

The elections also saw a considerable improvement in women’s representation in the parliament. Out of 791 female candidates that ran for office, 150 where elected. That is almost a tripling of elected women, compared to the previous parliament. Even though there is still a long way to go, women now take up 13 percent of seats nationwide.

NLD’s success is also evident among their youth candidates (35 or below), with 125 out of 150 youth candidates winning seats in one of the three parliaments. NLD youth candidates thereby take up more than 10 percent of all contested seats nationwide. Meanwhile, only few youth candidates from other parties have won seats, thereby somewhat mirroring the full election result. Remarkably, SNLD fielded the second highest number of winning youth candidates, getting six seats.

Looking at the gender balance among the youth candidates, there is also still a clear male dominance, with only around 25 percent of youth candidates being female.

Burmese politics is still widely dominated by experienced men, which is also reflected in the 2008 constitution. It states that MP’s must be at least 25 years old for the lower house and the regional assemblies and at least 30 years old for the upper house. Furthermore, the president and vice president must be at least 45 and ministers at least 40. Therefore, even though Burmese youth are free to participate in elections, these laws restrict their opportunities of taking up top political positions, regardless of their qualities.

Hope of a peaceful transition

With the results now clear, outgoing president Thein Sein has reiterated that he will support a peaceful transition of power. Likewise, Aung San Suu Kyi once again pledged to cooperate during this transitional process, when she met with Speaker of the parliament Shwe Mann for the first of three planned high-level transition talks. These voices of commitment therefore supports the popular hope of a peaceful next step in Myanmar’s democratic transition.

Through the Myanmar Multiparty Democracy Programme, DIPD is supporting the participation of women and youth in politics. As part of this programme, a cross-political youth delegation visited Denmark ahead of the Danish parliamentary elections in June 2015. Here they had the opportunity to meet with Danish youth wings, as well as experience the last phase of a Danish parliamentary election, and a strong focus on both women and youth will continue to be an integral part of DIPD’s efforts in Myanmar.

The exact voter turnout and a detailed list of elected candidates is yet to be announced by the UEC.

Bhutan pre-launch of Coalition Reader

Members of the 5 political parties in Bhutan participated in a seminar of the new DIPD Reader on Coalition Building, with former MP, Minister and Party Leader Lars Barfoed, and Deputy Mayor Kirsten Jensen, and graced by Chief Guest, Dasho Wangdi, former Chief Election Commissioner.

Report by Bjørn Førde, DIPD Director

Political parties in a young democracy

In his address to the seminar, which was organized in cooperation with the Election Commission of Bhutan and had the participation of 60 people from all five political parties, the Election Commission of Bhutan, NGOs and the media, the Chief Guest highlighted some of the defining features of the still rather young democracy of Bhutan. The idea of making Bhutan a democratic constitutional monarchy with the first party-based parliamentary elections taking place in 2008 came from the 4th King, who just some days ago had been celebrated by the country, when he turned 60 years old. He felt that a modern Bhutan needed to be governed by democratic institutions and a democratic culture, not by one man alone.

The Chief Guest addressing the seminar

The Chief Guest addressing the seminar

The former Chief Election Commissioner mentioned that not all Bhutanese had embraced this idea of democracy from the beginning, and some were probably still questioning the idea. Did Bhutan and the Bhutanese not do well when the King ruled? And did the political parties not create conflicts among and within families? The political parties therefore carried an important responsibility to develop a peaceful and responsible democratic culture, and in this process it was very useful to have the support and inspiration from DIPD.

Danish participation

He therefore warmly welcomed the participation of former Party Leader of the Conservative People’s Party, Mr. Lars Barfoed, in this meeting – with his experience of being a Member of Parliament as well as Minister with several different portfolios. And he welcomed the Deputy Mayor of Hillerød Municipality north of Copenhagen, Ms. Kirsten Jensen – with her long experience both from local level politics and the European Parliament. Both of the two Danish politicians have hands on experience with finding solutions together – the theme of the DIPD Reader.

In his presentation, Mr. Barfoed first referred to the fact that he had visited Bhutan 12 years earlier as a member of the Finance Committee of the Danish Parliament, and he was positively struck with the many changes that had taken place – also in the area of democratic governance, where there are many features that are shared by Denmark and Bhutan. He said that we need coalitions and cooperation both at the global level and at the national levels, and he gave several examples of building coalitions and finding solutions together from his time as party leader, both as part of a ruling coalition and being in opposition. While there can of course be both winners and loosers when you seek solutions together, society at large will often require long-term agreements. One example was the huge investments in infrastructure required over many years. This will not work if every new government makes changes.

Ms. Kirsten Jensen presenting her examples from being a Mayor

Ms. Kirsten Jensen presenting her examples from being a Mayor

Ms. Kirsten Jensen used her experience as a former Mayor and now a Deputy Mayor of a large municipality to mention two types of coalitions. One is a coalition of different political parties that agree to utilize the votes given to them to point to a particular party leader as the future Mayor. This is a technical type of coalition which helps to avoid the loss of votes if some of the parties do not get enough votes to be represented. Another type of coalition is when many different political parties – and it could at times be all the parties represented in the Municipal Council – agree on the long-term structure and financing of the school system in the municipality. This is something parents, teachers and students are very interested in, and the need to agree is more important than each party showing its particular position.

C for competition and cooperation

The Director of DIPD made it clear that the Reader is intended as ideas for inspiration, in particular because while there are similarities between Bhutan and Denmark, there are also important differences in the construction of the democratic institutions and rules and regulations. Denmark is obviously different because it uses proportional representation, and this has resulted in more than 100 years of no party winning a majority on its own; and from 1982 until 2015, all governments had been coalitions of two or more parties. This set-up makes it necessary to find solutions together:

”The politics of a democracy is certainly about competition, about winning. But there is more than the C of competition in our democratic culture. There is also the C of cooperation across party lines, because parties and politicians must respond to the needs of the people and society at large.”

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Participants at the seminar

The debate following the presentations, with questions coming from several of the political parties, as well as the concluding comments by the Chief Guest, emphasized what the title of the seminar also states: ”Political parties finding solutions together – as Bhutanese first”. It is of course the role of the parties to present their different ideologies and programmes to the electorate; but they also share a responsibility to find solutions that are needed for Bhutan as a country, and for the citizens of Bhutan. While Danish examples cannot be used directly, the principles involved are certainly useful for the continuing development of a democratic culture in Bhutan.

Read Kuensel’s article on the seminar here and South Asian Media’s article on the seminar here

 

For More information

Contact Director Bjørn Førde at bjf@dipd.dk or Project Coordinator Susanne Adelhardt at suad@dipd.dk

The Council of Europe criticizes Danish Party Funding Transparency

A new report from The Council of Europe describes the Danish party funding rules as being “globally unsatisfactory”. Therefore, the Danish government is now being encouraged to follow a number of recommendations, which shall create more transparency about who gives what and how much financial support to the Danish parties and politicians.

Main recommendations

The report’s 12 main recommendations cover a range of measures including subjecting funding at municipal level to the same rules that apply at national level, greater transparency,  better financial reporting and inspection,  and  putting a minimum threshold on when to publish support down from the now 20.000 Danish crowns to 10.000. However, the final limit should be balanced between ensuring transparency  when it comes to political parties’ funding and the opportunity for the citizens to keep their political affiliation secret.  In fact, the Council of Europe has endorsed many of the recommendations made to the Danish government earlier this year by the Danish Expert Committee on Party Finance.

Why is party funding and transparency important?

Political parties need appropriate funding to fulfill their core functions in representation and accountability, both during and between election periods. The regulation of political party funding is essential to guarantee parties’ independence from undue influence created by donors, to ensure parties the opportunity to compete in accordance with the principle of equal opportunity, and to provide for transparency in political financing. Transparency is not only important to ensure equal opportunity for competition between political parties but also in maintaining public trust in political parties and in understanding the economic and political interests at stake.

Denmark provides government support to political parties for them to operate as key institutions in multiparty democracy. However, in many other countries there is no government funding and very little regulation on party funding and transparency. Coupled with high levels of corruption this can easily be a dangerous cocktail.

What is DIPD’s policy?

The law establishing DIPD outlines the regulation of grants to Danish Political Parties to pursue democracy promotion projects with political parties and movements in developing countries. It generally follows the grant management guidelines of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Moreover, DIPD guidelines explicitly state that all grants received to support democracy projects abroad need to be reported for both the Danish Party and the partner in the annual financial report .

Moreover, DIPDs strategy 2014-2017 underlines the importance of enhancing the democratic functions of political parties – especially representation and accountability. For example, in our multiparty dialogue programme in Myanmar, the cross-party dialogue on regulation of political party finance is a key component. Here DIPD has also held financial management courses for the political parties stressing the need for proper management and accountability and DIPD has developed a tool: “Financial Health Check for Political Parties” (Click here).  Finally, all democracy grants are to be audited according to the standards of the Danish National Auditors.

Read the full Council of Europe Report here

For more information please contact DIPD Senior Advisor Hanne Lund Madsen at: hlm@dipd.dk

Peaceful elections concluded in Myanmar

An impressively high voter turnout and what looks like a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) are two of the main stories deriving from Sunday’s historic elections in Myanmar.

On Sunday 8 November 2015, the people of Myanmar headed for the polling stations in what was the first free parliamentary election since 1990. This was the culmination of a fairly peaceful electoral campaign period and fortunately, Sunday was no exception.

Although the final results have not yet been announced by the Union Election Commission, reports of a voter turnout of around 80 % is indeed highly impressive. NLD has declared themselves victorious with reports of at least 70 % of voters marking their support for Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. The spokesperson from USDP has announced that they will respect the election outcome and the Chief Commander of the military, Min Aung Hlaing, has also congratulated NLD for “winning a majority”. This is undoubtedly a remarkable landmark in Myanmar’s democratic transition.

Peaceful Election Day

More than 10.000 domestic observers observed the polling day process, while a large numbers of international observers and party agents also watched the polls. Initial media and observer reports indicate that the polling day was largely peaceful and mostly incident-free. On Election Day, long queues formed outside many polling stations long before they opened and the high voter turnout combined with occasional inadequate voting buildings resulted in people waiting for up to 4 hours to cast their vote.

Still, most voters showed considerable patience and dedication, with one voter expressing: “We came back from Singapore and had not cast advance votes, so we came here to vote, as we want to experience it, because it is the first time in our lives”.

Problems with voter lists

Unfortunately, reports show the problems with the voter lists may have had serious effects on a few local electoral results, such as in Hlaing Tharyar Township in Yangon. The errors in the voter lists have simply resulted in a disenfranchisement of some votes. Overall, these problems have not had a great effect on the electoral result, though.

Furthermore, the process of advance voting caused a few problems in some constituencies, as the votes arrived very late on Election Day and were therefore declared invalid. Shan and Kachin States were unfortunate examples of this.

In addition, many ethnic voters faced difficulties to vote for the ministers of Rakhine/Ethnic Affairs since not every station had polling box for the ethnic affairs minister.

Landslide victory

Even though the peaceful election campaign, the likewise peaceful Election Day and the relatively few problems encountered during the voting process are clearly important stepping stones in Myanmar’s democratic transition, most people will likely remember the 2015 elections for the overwhelming victory for NLD. Not only have the NLD exceed expectations in getting around 70 % of the votes (final result still pending), they also won overwhelming victories in almost all areas of the country, with Northern Rakhine State, as well as parts of Shan and Kachin state as the most prominent exceptions.

“Hope is in the air and we can start dreaming of better education and lifestyle for our generations to come“, a voter declared after casting her vote.

An underlying story is that numerous heavyweight candidates from the governing Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lost to direct opponents from NLD. Among the USDP candidates losing their parliamentary seats are Party Chairperson Htay Oo, Union Minister Aung Min and Speaker of the Parliament Shwe Mann.

Generally, USDP only performed well in areas with a large military or civil service presence.

Another surprising development is that NLD performed considerably better in the ethnic areas than expected. Thus, they have captured most of the seats in Mon, Thanintaryi and Southern Rakhine, and is also expected to win a number of seats in Chin, Shan and Kachin States (final results still pending).

Simultaneously, the numerous small and ethnic parties generally performed below expectations and only in Northern Rakhine (ANP) and in parts of Northern and Southern Shan (SNLD and SNDP) did the ethnic parties gain a significant number of seats. The small parties NUP, NDF, NDP and Farmers Party failed to win a single seat.

And now for the presidency…

Once the final result is known, an elongated process of electing the new president begins. Technically, the 2008 constitution states that the Lower House, the Upper House and the military will each nominate a candidate for presidency. All elected and unelected representatives in the parliament will then chose, who will become president, while the two other candidates will become vice-presidents.

This process is expected to take a least three months and a new parliament and president is therefore not expected to be in place until late February at the very earliest.

As widely reported, Aung San Suu Kyi is unable to run for presidency, as her children are English citizens, but she is nonetheless expected to play an important role, both in choosing the new president and in governing throughout the next five years.

A long and difficult road ahead

Rome was not build in a day and neither will democracy in Myanmar be. Once the electoral dust has settled and the international media and election observers have flown home, it will thus be important how NLD will manage their new position of power and how the future stance will be of the military still represented through reserved seats (25 %) in parliament. Though the losing USDP candidates have largely taken NLD’s victory with grace and accepted their defeat, a change in power at such a scale will require patience, boldness and new challenges for many actors among the political parties, military and civil society organisations.

Through the Myanmar Multiparty Democracy Programme, DIPD will continue to support the cross-political dialogue, which will continue to be an important component of the continued democratic transition.

Celebrating the Father of Democracy in Bhutan

Bhutan is one of the youngest democracies in the world, and the former King was a key person in adopting the new Constitution, which in 2008 saw the country elect the first party-based government. He later retired and handed the throne over to his son. Today the 60th birthday of the ’old’ King was celebrated by 50.000 people at the national stadium in the capital Thimphu.

Reported by Bjørn Førde, DIPD Director

There are no photos from the celebration with this article. All internet connectivity was closed down during the celebration, and it was not allowed to bring in cameras etc. for security reasons.

Bhutan has been in a frenzy-like state for months, with citizens all over the country preparing for the 11 November celebrations. Monday and Tuesday were public holidays,  which people used to clean up the streets and tidy their houses. For some the extra free time was spent doing the last rehearsals for the dances they had been selected to perform at the stadium. Cars were not allowed into the downtown part of Thimphu, while families strolled the streets in the thousands, enjoying some sweets and listening to the live performance in the central square around the Clock Tower.

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Families enjoying the holidays because of the birthday

For this reporter, who has visited Bhutan on many occasions and has constantly been reminded of the close relationship between the Royal Family and the people of Bhutan, this outpour of genuine love and care for the old King – and for the new and young King for that matter – comes as no surprise. The two Kings have made it their ’signature’ to be committed to the development of people and country in a very unique manner.

While this clebration was obviously massive and special, it was not in any way unique. It was colourful with dancers in many forms and shapes; it was religious with the buddhist prayers and the monks being here, there and everywhere; it was emotional with the King giving his speech to the people; and it was fun with thousands cheering when the pillow-fight took place as part of the entertainment.

But it was also down to earth and people-to-people based when the King started moving around among the audience with the Prime Minister at his side, stopping every so often, and taking his time to listen and comment on the concerns of his citizens – the young mother with a cruying baby in her arms; the old man who had come to the capital from his village in the mountains to be part of this; the policeman who was part of the security setup; the retired civil servant who was remembered by name; and many more.

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The old King to the right and the young King to the left at the largest buddhist place of prayer in Thimphu

”So maybe this is part of the informal and formal institutional machinery, which creates such a strong stability in Bhutan – and also allows us to develop our own form of democracy at our own pace in a hectically changing global environment,” commented one of the Bhutanese I was sitting next to during the five hour programme. ”And do not forget that the King in a sense handed us democracy, even though many really did not want it. Why should we have it, when the King took such good care of us?”

Yes, this is likely to be part of the story of modern democracy in Bhutan. People are still very concerned with the unrest and confrontational dialogue they see in other democracies around the world, at times leading to violence. But they also understand that the King has been wise – through the Constitution – in setting up various institutions (election commission, national assembly, national council, etc.)  in such a way that Bhutan will avoid the excesses that other countries have to deal with.

On his tour through the audience, the King also stopped to greet and talk to the DIPD Director. Denmark is a long-term friend of Bhutan, and he is well informed about the history of Danish development cooperation in his country – probably one of the most successful stories of cooperation that Denmark can offer. He asked what it was like working on democracy in his country compared to many other countries, and the answer from the Director was:

”Bhutan knows where it is coming from – and Bhutan is very clear on where it wants to go –  therefore it is possible to offer some ideas for inspiration from Denmark. No more – no less – and this is what DIPD tries to do as best as we can.”

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This 51 meter talk Buddha statue outside Thimphu can be seen clearly from the City centre

Tomorrow is yet another normal day in Bhutan. The old King will go back to his humble house in the capital, and the young King will continue the tradition of his father of visiting the most far away villages as often as possible.

However, soon the young King will have less time for that, because he used this occasion to announce that the Queen will give birth to their first son in a few months from now. Cheers went up when this was announced, because this the citizens of Bhutan have been waiting for.