Voters in Myanmar’s landmark election will be stumbling into a virtual aviary Sunday when they see their ballot papers. And the confusion is ruffling political feathers.
Nine of the contesting political parties are using a peacock as their logo, with most bearing a striking resemblance to that of the party headed by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. At least three other parties are using other birds.
This means every ballot will include many variations, some very slight, on Suu Kyi’s emblem, a “fighting peacock” flying toward a white star. All the avian logos are set against the same dark red background.
It’s a ploy, some think, to fool illiterate or rushed voters to accidentally pick another party instead of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. The NLD is widely expected to win big against the military-backed United Solidarity and Development Party. Nobody has imitated its logo, a single star on a field of green and red.
Asked to point out the NLD symbol among a display of feathery logos, taxi driver Yangon Than Oo wasn’t sure.
“Is this the one with the star?” he asked uncertainly.
NLD spokesperson Nyan Win is not pleased.
“As a lawyer, I want to say that these similarities are wrong,” he said in an interview. He said the party complained to the Union Election Commission, which is overseeing the fiercely contested election which Suu Kyi’s supporters hope will free Myanmar from the half-century grip of the military. The commission, he added, has taken no action.
But commission spokesman Than Sint Aung said the NLD complaint came in after the deadline, and noted that names of parties will appear on ballots next to logos. Plus, he added: “The peacock logo has been used since a long time ago. Myanmar people think it is really good.”
Along with the white elephant and the chinthe - the mythical, lion-like creature which guards Buddhist temples - the peacock is a long-honored national icon with roots in Buddhism and animist beliefs.
The dancing peacock -- the bird in courtship or feather display -- was emblematic of Myanmar’s last monarchy and an aggressively posed fighting peacock served the anti-British struggle of the 1930s led by independence hero Aung San, Suu Kyi’s father. It appeared on the flag of students who led a bloody, unsuccessful uprising in 1988 and has since been associated with the struggle against the military.
Zay Ta, chairman of the New Society Party, said its symbol - four stars and a peacock - was created to honor the 1988 students and not intended as an imitation.
“They want to confuse us. Some will vote for the wrong party. But if you really know the party you want to vote for you will get it right,” said Nay Chi Lin, a 22-year-old hotel employee who rapidly pointed to the NLD logo on the display sheet. Nearby, Win Zaw, 44, also got it right. But his wife hesitated and pointed to another party’s logo.