YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar will hold by-elections later this year to fill 28 unoccupied parliamentary seats, its top elections official said Thursday, letting contending parties test the political waters about a year ahead of the next general election.
The chairman of the Union Election Commission, Tin Aye, announced the timing in answering a question from a member of Parliament’s lower house. He said the polls would be conducted after monsoon season, which ends in October. The exact date will be set three months before the vote.
The by-elections should indicate the strengths of the ruling army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party and the opposition National League for Democracy party led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the two main parties expected to contest the general election in late 2015.
Suu Kyi’s party boycotted the 2010 general election as undemocratic but participated in April 2012 by-elections, winning 43 seats out of 45 seats at stake. She agreed to take part after President Thein Sein’s reformist government changed the election law.
Former general Thein Sein took office as an elected prime minister in 2011, after almost five decades of military rule. However, the military is allotted a fixed percentage of seats in the legislature, giving it veto power over the administration of the country.
The military-guided constitution also contains clauses that would bar Suu Kyi from becoming president, and for that and other reasons, some legislators are seeking to have it amended.
The legislature comprises 224 members in the upper house and 440 members in the lower house; 25 percent of the seats in each body are occupied by military appointees. Myanmar has 65 political parties, but only a handful have representatives in parliament.
Some of the seats to be filled in the by-elections opened when lawmakers became Cabinet ministers. Other seats are vacant because security concerns prevented votes from being held in some constituencies. In some parts of Myanmar, the government is fighting against ethnic minorities who are seeking more autonomy.