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ICC Note: Christians could play a key role in Myanmar’s national elections in November, but as noted in the article, recent flooding and ongoing military conflict in the area may make it difficult for citizens in those states with larger Christian populations to get to the polls.

By Michael Sainsbury for Global Pulse

08/20/2015 Myanmar (

In less than three months, Myanmar’s fragile, half-formed democracy will be tested by the first election to be contested by all comers since 1990.

While at first blush, the poll looks like a two-horse race between the military-backed government and the opposition National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the situation is far more complex.

Myanmar has seven stand-alone ethnic states, four of which have sizable Christian populations.

These could hold the keys to power with dozens of locally based parties expected to win seats in the 440-member lower house, making a coalition the only option for Suu Kyi’s party to take control of parliament.

The situation has been further complicated in recent weeks. First, massive flooding has already cost more than 100 lives and is likely to further affect more than half a million people. The wreckage could make it difficult for voters to reach polling stations in a country with a still largely primitive infrastructure.

Suu Kyi has already addressed this issue, pointing to a similar situation in 2008 following the devastation left by Cyclone Nargis. A vote on Myanmar’s constitution was held only six weeks after that disaster and, as Suu Kyi said in a video on her Facebook page, it “raised very many questions about the effectiveness of that referendum, about how acceptable the results of that referendum were.”

It remains unclear just how much damage the recent floods have caused, but with at least 600,000 people seriously affected — and the wet season not yet over — it will likely persist as an issue.

More explosively, there has been an internal bloodletting by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The party leadership on Aug. 13 removed the nation’s No. 2 politician and one-time presidential hopeful, lower house speaker Shwe Mann, from all party positions. While he has so far retained his role in the legislature, there were rumors that fresh moves were afoot to dump him from parliament and the speaker’s job as well.

All this almost certainly ensures incumbent Thein Sein a second term as president, which only a year ago he had vowed not to seek.

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