Myanmar elections: Who are the key players?

06 November 2015
Myanmar elections: Who are the key players?
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander in chief of the Myanmar Army talks during the meeting with journalists at Commander in Chief office in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, 21 September 2015. Photo: EPA

Myanmar votes on November 8. These are the key players:
Aung San Suu Kyi
Democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi towers over Myanmar's political landscape, winning adulation at home and abroad for her freedom fight.
Suu Kyi, who is 70, languished under house arrest the last time a relatively free election took place in Myanmar in 1990.
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide, but the then junta simply ignored the vote.
Two decades on and the Nobel Peace Prize laureate is free to campaign, drawing large crowds of supporters who see her as the best chance Myanmar has to break away from its military past.
The NLD is expected to make significant gains if the vote is free and fair -- though it remains to be seen whether it can win enough seats to form a government.
Even if it does, Suu Kyi is currently barred from becoming president by a junta-era constitution that forbids those with foreign-born offspring taking the top post.
And while "The Lady" is loved in much of Myanmar's central ethnic Bamar majority heartland, her popularity is untested among the country's many ethnic minority groups.
Thein Sein
Current President Thein Sein wears civilian suits and traditional "longyi" sarongs, but he is army khaki through and through.
The bespectacled 70-year-old rose from humble origins to become a senior general in Myanmar's powerful Tatmadaw armed forces. But he swapped his uniform for civilian life to oversee the country's remarkable reforms since 2011.
He insists his commitment to reform is genuine, but his links to the military remain strong.
He helped found the United Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the junta's mass social organisation which turned itself into a political party.
Senior military figures have thrown their support behind the USDP and Thein Sein, as have influential hardline Buddhist nationalist organisations.
Thein Sein and the USDP already hold a key advantage -- army appointees count for a quarter of parliamentary seats under the constitution.
If they tally up with the USDP, Thein Sein's party only needs to win 33 percent of contested seats to form a majority. 
Thein Sein himself is not standing for election. But the president does not need to be elected and he has not ruled out running for a second term of the presidency as the army-backed candidate.
General Min Aung Hlaing
Myanmar's military chief is an enormously influential if somewhat inscrutable figure.
The 59-year-old cut his military teeth fighting rebels and is often described as the most powerful man in Myanmar.
The military's parliamentary bloc votes how its commander-in-chief wants it to on major issues, while the army continues to wield financial clout through significant business and industrial interests.
In an interview with AFP and other media in September, the general insisted the military would abide by the outcome of the vote.
But given the military's track record of crushing democratic opposition, many will be watching him closely in the coming days.
Ethnic minorities and rebel groups
Myanmar is a country with a long and proud history of nationhood. But it is also a patchwork of competing ethnicities.
Many of those minorities live in a crescent of border regions that have experienced some of the world's longest running civil wars.
Voting will not be taking place in some regions where fighting still rages. But elsewhere parties representing ethnic minorities are likely to do well and could play key roles in any post-election coalition.
Buddhist nationalist monks
Monks are forbidden from taking part in politics but have been at the forefront of protest movements.
In recent years a nascent Buddhist nationalist movement has sprung up, throwing its weight behind the ruling USDP party.
The so-called Ma Ba Tha and the firebrand monk Wirathu are the best known of these groups, espousing virulently anti-Muslim sentiment. At the core of their ideology is the belief that Myanmar's Buddhist identity is under attack from Muslims.
Dozens of people have died in religious violence over the last few years.
The USDP has aligned itself with this conservative view, agreeing to pass a series of controversial race and religion laws earlier this year. 
As a result, the Buddhist nationalists have made it clear the incumbent government is their favourite choice.