Have Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD party lost their popularity?
The streets of Myanmar’s main cities such as Yangon and Mandalay are filled with taxis, shops and restaurants sporting NLD flags and stickers, and when asked, many people will share with you their deep support of the loved national figure Aung San Suu Kyi. But do the NLD have a chance in the election?
Firstly, it is hard to judge political affiliation just by looking on the streets. It must be considered that many have been paid to put up certain flags, which is reportedly true of the NLD campaigners here in Yangon, while USDP supporters similarly walk the streets paying people to take them down. But on the other hand, violence towards those who wear NLD flags will no doubt scare many into keeping their support for the party private. One campaigner revealed that after exiting a large crowd gathered together to hear Suu Kyi speak last week, he was threatened by a man holding a rock in his hand, but luckily got away once persuading him he and his friends did not support the NLD and were just passers by.
Secondly, there are still many people who do not understand the voting system and will therefore simply not be able to vote. While some local NGOs have committed to holding workshops on how the voting system works, these events will only bring in people who are already dedicated to vote. There are still many people with the attitude that it is too difficult, they do not know enough about the different parties, and that they do not know what would be best for the country.
“Many Buddhists no longer support the NLD” one Yangon resident said, “they used to stand for democracy, but now they are the party of the religious minority. If they are to win, the country’s national identity and its Buddhist majority will suffer, mosques will be built all over the city”.
While on the other side of town a young Muslim boy gladly shared his support for Suu Kyi, “she will help the people who are suffering at the hands of the government” referring to the poverty stricken villages where his family live, just south of the Yangon River, who work hard on the government owned rice fields but reap none of the rewards from it.
Interestingly, there has been much debate over Suu Kyi’s silence over the suffering of the Rohingya Muslims, leading to the opinion, particularly in western media, that she does not support the Muslims of Myanmar. However, with 80% of the population as Buddhist, and with the fear of Islam incited by monk Wirathu, (leader of the anti-Muslim 969 campaign) it is clear Suu Kyi cannot openly support the religious minority as much as we would like her to so close to the election. This does not mean she will not make positive change should she win.
With the lack of education on the voting system and the fear that Suu Kyi and the NLD will compromise the Buddhist nationalist pride that so many adhere to, who knows what lies in store for Myanmar in the next month. One thing is for sure, the NLD are sparing no time or expense to campaign for their cause, there are very few Myanmar citizens who would not recognise that red and gold flag. Let’s hope this is a sign for a democratic future in Myanmar.