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Monday, Jan 26th

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Political parties are preparing for showdown in Lashio

The weather is still cool in Lashio city, northern Shan State, and morning fog shrouds the 2,500 year-old Buddhist temple perched on a hill overlooking the city.

NLD chairperson Daw Aung San Suu Kyi canvassing election campaign in LashioSai Maung (not his real name) misses his home in Lashio while he is away working as a laborer in Thailand.

He said things are heating up at home, despite the cool weather, as candidates from different political parties canvass in Lashio in the last few days before Sunday’s by-elections.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the big winner in the November 2010 general election, the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), which is an ethnic Shan party and other two ethnic political parties are competing for votes in Lashio.

The SNDP, also known as the White Tiger party, lost in 2010. Saw Than Myint, central committee member and a treasurer in the SNDP said he believes his party will win the by-election.

"Our party lost in Lashio city during the 2010 election because we had 7 ballots less than the opposition party. We are sure to win the by-elections in Lashio, whoever contests in our city," he said.

Vice-president, Dr. Sai Mauk Kham, won in Lashio Township for the USDP in 2010, over U Thant Zin, from the White Tiger Party.

Dr. Nang Kain Phon Tit, from the USDP, and Sai San Min, from White Tiger party, will contest for the vacant seat in Lashio Township on Sunday.

However, there will be three major parties competing in Lashio because the NLD party will run for the vacant seat in Lashio City in the by-election.

Even though the NLD party is running, the USDP will be a major rival for the White Tiger Party in Lashio town, according to Saw Than Myint.

"We don't need to consider the NLD party as a rival party in our State," he said.

"We will get many votes from Shan people. I think other ethnic votes in Lashio will be split and go to different political parties. Shan people will vote for the SNDP. Other ethnic votes come from non-Shan voters (Chinese, Burman, Kachin, Wa, etc),” U Saw Than Myint said.

Some analysts said votes will be split among the 3 major parties because there are three major political parties running in Lashio city this time, where there were only two major parties in 2010.

According to Sai Myint Maung, from the NLD, his party will get more votes in downtown Lashio but the USDP and White Tiger party will compete for votes in the outskirts of Lashio township.

"The SNDP have complaints with the State Election Commission about the USDP threatening local Shan people to vote for the Lion symbol in the outskirts of Lashio township. They are competing with each other to get votes there," U Sai Myint Maung said.

"I think they don't consider us as a rival. I don't think they can compete with us to get votes in downtown Lashio," he continued.

The NLD party gained support from local people when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi travelled to Shan State during her party's campaign. U Sai Myint Maung believes if the elections are free and fair, as the government promised, it is sure votes will come to the NLD party.

"Voters have more understanding of the political situation than they had it in 1990. Many people say they turn radio before they wash their face," Sai Myint Maung continued.

According to U Khuensai Jaiyen, the Editor of the Shan Herald Agency for News, based in Thailand, the three major political parties have different strengths. So, the number of votes for each won't be much different.

"They have equal opportunity to get votes. They may gain the same number of votes,” he said.

He also said the NLD party is strong in downtown Lashio city and local Shan people are interested the White Tiger party in the outskirts of Lashio township. On the other hand, the USDP has the power to change voter lists in downtown Lashio and local Shan people are forced to vote for the USDP by the People's Militia, controlled by the government.

"The consequences of threats and forced voting by the USDP will influence the coming general elections in 2015. Possibly, the USDP will use its power, as much as they can, to contest the by-elections," U Khuensai Jaiyen said.

USDP candidate, Nang Kain Phon Tit, Sai San Min from the White Tiger party and Sai Myint Maung from the NLD will contest the by-elections in Lashio township, northern Shan State. All of them are living in Lashio city and they are also Shan.

Nang Kain Phon Tit has been working for women affairs. Sai San Min has been working for the Shan Literature and Culture Committee, in Shan State. Sai Myint Maung has political experience and won in the 1990 general elections in constituency no. 3, in Lashio Township.

There are 124 polling stations for Lashio, Thenni, Tang-yang, Mueng-reh, and Kun-long constituencies in northern Shan State.

Candidates from the Kokang Democracy and Unity Party, and the Lahu National Development Party will also run in the by-elections in northern Shan State.