Burma opposition party chief quits

The chairman of the Union Democratic Party (UDP) in Burma has quit his post in protest at lack of reform of pre-election conditions.

Phyo Min Thein sent a letter to party colleagues yesterday announcing his resignation and lamenting the fact that increasingly repressive election laws were being rolled out by the Burmese government.

He told DVB that “we tried our best within the capacity of the Union Democracy Party” but that little more could be done unless the wider circumstances change. There is “no chance the elections and its results will be free and fair”, he added.

“The regulations are extremely strict. I don’t plan to continue under circumstances where we can only follow [the government’s] plan,” he said. “This is why I am stopping. I have decided to quit from my position as the chairman and my responsibilities as well as my involvement in this political environment.”

He added that the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) led by Burma’s prime minister, Thein Sein, was blocking the chances of smaller parties. The USDP is widely tipped to win the elections, and has a number of current government ministers within its ranks.

Rumours are circulating that Burma’s forestry minister, Thein Aung, will stand in the elections as a candidate in Irrawaddy division’s Ingapu. It is not clear which party he will join, but it is the USDP that appears to be accomodating most government ministers, including foreign minister Nyan Win.

Thein Tin Aung, general secretary of the UDP, said however that the party will continue to the end despite Phyo Min Thein’s resignation.

“We are not arguing that the restrictions [Phyo Min Thein] mentioned are not true – those facts are correct. But this is not the time to decide to withdraw from the elections,” said  Thein Tin Aung. “We will keep on striving for free and fair elections and to represent the people until the voters are given freedom of choice and the right to vote freely.”

He added however that the party will try to survive to restrictive laws, but if it transpired that “people cannot cast votes freely, then we might also have to withdraw from the elections”.

Phyo Min Thein spent 15 years in prison after his arrest in 1990. He had been active in the 1988 uprising and was appointed secretary of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) the in lower-Burma regions in 1990, before being sent to prison.

The UDP was founded earlier this year and quickly became one of the more vocal parties campaigning for Burma’s first elections in two decades later this year.

Out of the 49 parties that have registered for elections, 40 have so far been approved by the Election Commission.

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