They haven’t had much of a break, the slum-dwellers and squatters in Yangon’s densely populated industrial outer suburb of Hlaing Tharyar. But they’re hoping the National League for Democracy’s election victory will usher in a better era.
They don’t have a lot to base that conviction on, given that the NLD candidates’ campaign promises only indicated a vaguely defined agenda for “development”. Yet the largest opposition party’s slogan for change resonated with the community: Unofficial results show the NLD candidates won with more than five times as many votes as their Union Solidarity and Development Party rivals.

About 300,000 squatters are thought to be living in Hlaing Tharyar township, which had a population of 687,000 at the time of the March 2014 census. Many relocated to the area after they lost their homes and were displaced from the delta by 2008’s Cyclone Nargis, while others arrived to take up jobs in the nearby burgeoning factory industrial park.

“We completely lost everything, even our human rights,” said Daw Ohn Yin, 52, who moved from Hinthada after Nargis.

She’s one of the residents along the 48-house strip that makes up Kan Park street. Over 300 people cram into the small huts there. Part of ward 15, the squatters’ homes are adjacent to the Shwe Lin Ban stream. Every time it rains, the bank overflows and their houses flood with polluted waters.

“This place is very harmful during the flooding, but we still live here in fear because we have no other choice,” said Daw Ohn Yin.

There are only two communal taps to provide water to all 300 residents. Others in the township avoid ward 15.

The squatters’ distrust of the ruling party runs deep after being spurned one too many times by the current administration. The city development committee has been tasked with overseeing the area, which has mostly meant issuing threats of eviction. Even the ward administrators have been callously negligent of the residents’ needs: Daw Ohn Yin said they have refused to produce recommendations so the squatters can obtain jobs at the nearby factories.

“We are looked upon like refugees,” she said. “It’s very hard to find work, and without an income there is no money for living expenses or accommodation.”

While residents can’t count on any support, there is one thing they can rely on: rising housing costs.

Ma Tin Tin Oo, 32, also from Hinthada, said her family was forced to squat in a makeshift structure after they were priced out of the home they used to rent. At first they were charged K20,000, but the regular hikes eventually brought the cost up to K45,000.

“We live in constant fear that our homes will be destroyed because the authorities come to frighten us and all the time remind us they could force us to move from here,” she said.

“My husband went to downtown Yangon to find work and earn money for the family, but he has not come back for about 20 days,” she said, holding her one-year-old baby. “I’m not sure he will come back. Now my son, who is 10 years old, has to work for us.”

Hoping for some of the “change” that the NLD has promised, many of the residents of Kan Park, and other areas of ward 15, backed the party’s candidates on November 8.

“We all hope Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will make a more suitable place for us at least. We voted with expectations [for a better future],” Ma Tin Tin Oo said.

Tens of thousands in the township lost their right to vote after they were left off voter lists. The township’s electoral rolls stirred up controversy before the election due to the extent of discrepancies. Even after corrections were filed, the rolls continued to include the names of deceased residents and those who had moved, while failing to add new residents and squatters. In some of the township’s wards, the errors were so extreme that only about a dozen people could vote of the hundreds of names listed at polling stations.

Around 60 people from the Shwe Lin Ban shanty town weren’t able to cast ballots, according to U Hla Myint, a 63-year-old resident.

“They were not on the voter lists even though we already applied for corrections with form 3(a),” he said.

Because the ward administration doesn’t recognise squatters as lawful residents, many could not get the recommendations needed to apply for an addition to the voter list however, U Tin Oo, 54, another resident of the ward told The Myanmar Times.

“If Daw Suu becomes a president, we hope she will remember the shanty-towns in Hlaing Tharyar,” said U Hla Myint.

The largest opposition party hasn’t offered them much in exchange for the support, however.

“The NLD chair has a development plan for Hlaing Tharyar, especially for the squatters, but we don’t know yet how she will implement it,” said U Aye Bo, the winning Amyotha Hluttaw representative.

The USDP was more liberal with their campaign pledges, suggesting “low-cost” housing was on the horizon. Yet the units, which will be at least K10 million, are still unaffordable for many ward 15 residents.

Housing wasn’t the only priority on ward 15 voters’ wish list, however.

“We need change from the old system and want to speak freely to whoever we like without fear,” said U Tin Tun, 67, who supports the NLD for their promises to uphold human rights.

U Tin Tun has lived in the makeshift town for five years after his land in Taikkyi township was destroyed in a flood.

Many of the squatters expressed hope that soon they would be living without the constant fears of eviction or that they would one-day find their temporary homes destroyed to make way for condos. All expected Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could do something positive for them.

“We voted for the National League for Democracy on election day because we all love Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Daw Ohn Yin. “She can bring us better education and healthcare.”