How will Small Ethnic Parties Perform in the Upcoming 2020 General Elections?

Netina Tan and Cassandra Preece

Originally published June 24, 2020 on PK FORUM

Regardless of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Myanmar appears to be going ahead with general elections in December this year. Will there be continued support for the National League for Democracy (NLD)? Or will ethnic parties gain more popular votes and seat shares this time round?

Election prediction is tricky. In the last 2015 general election, the results surprised many observers and experts, as there was an unexpected ethnic swing support for the NLD. Given the recent trend of party mergers between ethnic parties….will the NLD’s electoral fortune change?

Recent reports indicate that the 2020 elections may be more competitive than expected.

Our paper, “Ethnic Party Success: The Mechanical and Psychological Effects of Plurality Rule in Myanmar” explains the conditions under which ethnic parties can succeed in Myanmar, if they are strategic by fielding candidates in selective districts.

Most conventional studies on electoral and party politics expect small, under-resourced ethnic parties to be decimated overtime. However, we highlight several key factors that could improve the electoral prospects of small, ethnic parties.

 It is critical for small ethnic parties not to overstretch their resources but field their best candidates in districts with a high geographic concentration of voters from the same ethnic group; collaborate with ethnic parties from similar ethnicity to prevent split votes; and also anticipate the voters’ tendency to avoid “wasted vote” syndrome by competing in constituencies with fewer competing parties.
We are seeing some encouraging signs of strategic learning in the upcoming election. A number of ethnic parties have merged to improve their competitiveness.

Ethnic voters have also voiced frustration with the ruling NLD’s slowness in dealing with ethnic minority interests.
Our paper also identifies a few underpopulated areas where ethnic parties might have a better chance of winning.

If the 2020 election moves forward despite the COVID-19 pandemic, our prediction is that strategic small, ethnic parties such as the newly merged Kachin State People’s Party and Kayah State Democratic Party can still win and gain a few seats and influence the 2020 electoral results.

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