Myanmar Internet users are actively sharing political cartoons that reflect various social issues related to the November 8 general election.
This is the second election since the country embarked on a democratic transition in 2010. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will compete with the opposition party, National League for Democracy (NLD), which is led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
The election is crucial since it will determine if the military-backed government is committed to implementing more democratic reforms in the country.
For more than five decades, Myanmar was under a military government, which was accused of committing human rights abuses and widespread corruption. Military rule began in 1962 when General Ne Win led a coup d'état and established a socialist government. After a major uprising in 1988, Myanmar (then called Burma) held a general election two years later but the military refused to recognize the landslide victory of NLD led by Suu Kyi. Opposition leaders were arrested and Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest while General Than Shwe established a new military regime.
In 2010, the regime was replaced by a civilian government but the army retained 25 percent of the seats in Hluttaw (Parliament). Further, the democratic transition in the past five years was marred by rising cases of communal violence, armed conflicts, land protests, online hate speech, persecution of journalists, harassment of students, and the rise of religious fundamentalists.
Cartoons have been a popular form of expression reflecting political issues even when Myanmar was under totalitarian rule. As the election draw near, cartoonists in Myanmar are continuing the tradition of using their drawings to comment on what is happening in the country. The Facebook page Brainwave (Nyanhlain) is featuring the works of some of these cartoonists.
Take a look at some of the most popular cartoons and social issues that are being widely discussed on social media.
Error-filled voters’ list
One of the pre-election issues is the prevalence of errors in the official list of eligible voters across the country. Many are concerned that legitimate voters won't be able to vote on election day, prompting various groups to conduct election awareness campaigns. Voters are also encouraged to check their registration via online platforms like Let's Check Voter List.
Cartoonist Thiha (Sa Khan Thit) is worried over reports that the erroneous list of voters is already a nationwide problem:
Text in the cartoon: Since voter lists have errors in almost every town in the country, isn't it a proof of a national conspiracy?
Some cartoonists are also describing the way political parties behave during their campaigns. Kar Hlu Pyi drew a metaphorical cartoon on the lack of unity in the country, which got 3,000 likes and 1,000 shares on Facebook:
Text in the cartoon: Hey, Hey… although it's true that we can move if we push together, this is not how you do it!
Cartoonist Min Htet Lu reflects on what people feel about the government's efforts to persuade voters:
Text in the cartoon: [They] are really good: as the election draws near, they started repairing roads, schools, wells, etc. The only thing they do not repair is their habit.
[Translator's note: in Burmese language, the words “repair” and “change” are the same.
Second rerm for the president
Cartoonists also reacted humorously to the president's remarks on his desire to serve a second term.
Text on the left: The president said he will consider serving a second term if the people wish so.
Text on the right: Well… He can then decide after reading the comments below [on Facebook].
For cartoonist Thura, many people did not react favorably to the president's statement:
Text on the left (president): Regarding my second term, if people wish so, I will seriously contemplate serving again.
Text on the right: Oh my god… just be gone, already!
Mg Mg Fountain is skeptical about the future of the country:
Text on the top left: If [we] have the chance to run the country for next five years, poverty will not exist anymore.
Text on the right (map): What about me? Will I still exist then?
Cartoonist Htin Lin Kyaw illustrates the ‘people's desire':
Text on the left: Do you know what would happen if there are no projects, no budget, no foreign investment, no crackdown, and important people like us!!?
Text on the right: Then it's the people's desire.
There are also concerns about the return of direct military rule. Thiha (Sa Khan Thit)'s cartoon on this issue got more than 8,000 likes on Facebook:
Text on the left: The army assures that there will be no coup as long as there is stability in the country.
Text on the right: People are just worried that [they] will create instability in order to perform coup.