Burma election: The parties

image captionSeveral small parties are taking on the two junta-linked giants

Twenty years after Burma's military suffered a landslide defeat in elections, many of its members have quit ranks as part of a plan to contest new elections as civilians.

The National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the 1990 polls but was never allowed to take power, is backing a boycott.

But other democratic parties have formed and are running against the powerful military and bureaucratic establishment.

Out of 37 registered political parties, 22 could conceivably gain influence in various parts of the country.

However, the registration process was expensive and cumbersome, and excluded at least 10 parties.

The Transnational Institute of the Netherlands notes that 24 out of the 37 parties represent specific ethnic populations; more than half of the parties have 11 candidates or less, thereby contesting in fewer than 1% of elected seats; and, only four parties have enough candidates to contest more than 10% of the 1,163 seats.

The front-runner

The virtually guaranteed winner before any vote is cast is the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

That is not only because it is led by Prime Minister Thein Sein and a raft of recently retired generals.

It is the offspring of a since dissolved Union Solidarity and Development Association. This association was blamed for the intimidation of pro-democracy activists, including violent assaults on detained NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

It also has a huge budget and all the organisational resources of the former association at its disposal.

Thus only the USDP has candidates contesting all seats up for election across the country.

The old guard

The National Unity Party (NUP) is the only other party able to aim for votes across all states and divisions.

As the successor to the Burma Socialist Programme Party of former dictator Ne Win, who ruled from 1962 to 1988, it was the big loser in the 1990 elections.

Close to the military, it represents the old establishment. This is its biggest advantage - it is well versed in wielding bureaucratic power.

But some analysts wonder if it will split the pro-government vote in the many constituencies where there will probably be one pro-democracy or ethnic party competing against both the USDP and NUP.

It is contesting 999 seats.

The splinter group

The National Democratic Force (NDF) grew out of the decision by the NLD not to take part in the elections.

Its leaders, Than Nyein and Khin Maung Swe, are both former central executive members of the NLD who have served lengthy periods in jail as political prisoners.

They argue that though deeply flawed, the elections offer the only chance of participation in the new "democracy".

This has made it vulnerable to charges of boycott-breaking by NLD loyalists.

Its quest for 163 seats in Rangoon will be perhaps the most closely watched of all party efforts.

The three princesses

The Democratic Party (Myanmar) (DPM) is led by a veteran activist and former political prisoner, Thu Wai.

It is backed by the "three princesses" - three daughters of former national leaders.

Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein, Than Than Nu and Nay Yee Ba Swe say detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is like a sister.

But the three women's choice has been to participate in a voting process they know is profoundly limited.

The party, which has complained to election authorities about harassment, is contesting just 48 seats.

The 88 generation

These are the people who led the mass protests that brought the military junta to its knees in 1988.

The military recovered to hold elections it later ignored, forcing many members of this activist generation to flee abroad.

All key leaders of the 88 generation inside Burma are in jail. The democratic credentials of two parties claiming to represent them have been questioned.

Aye Lwin was a protest leader in 1988. He leads the Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics, which is contesting 46 seats. An early recipient of support from the government-formed USDA, he has since tried to distance himself from the generals.

His brother Ye Htun leads the 88 Generation Student Youths, which is widely believed to be close to the junta. It is contesting 39 seats.