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Workshops and seminars for politicians and journalists on the upcoming elections in Burma are being provided by non-governmental groups and international experts.
One group holding a series of workshops is Myanmar Egress, one of Burma’s better-known civil society groups co-founded by Nay Win Maung, publisher of both The Voice weekly and Living Colour business magazine.
Nay Win Maung’s role in the training is seen as controversial given his alleged closeness to Burma’s ruling generals. The Washington Post said in a June 2008 article about junta “cronies” that his background is that of “a son of a military officer brought up among Burma’s military elites, giving him good connections to military insiders.”
In 2008 he also reportedly urged opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to agree to the basic constitution that paved the way for elections this year. Ironically, elections laws announced in March effectively forced Suu Kyi’s party to boycott the polls.
The chairman of the Democratic Party, Thu Wei, told DVB that the workshops covered a range of topics, from field campaigning skills to political strategising and management. The Democratic Party, part of Burma’s political ‘third force’ in which parties are outwardly allied to neither opposition nor incumbent, was one of the first groups to be approved to campaign.
“The election training by Myanmar Egress was for four days until [Wednesday]. It was quite comprehensive – on things such as what to do and what not do in the elections – and a lot of documents,” said Thu Wei. “Some of the things they taught we can apply, such as how to vote. We will apply what we can.”
Reports earlier this week that election training was being given by the Election Commission to the government-proxy Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) has concerned Burma observers: the USDA has allegedly been given the task of manning the ballot stations during voting, despite its apparent close ties to the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), headed by Burmese prime minister Thein Sein, which will run for office.
Similar concerns were raised around the time of the 2008 constitution, when the government conducted training workshops for proxy groups to ensure the smooth ratification of what was widely considered an unfair and controversial procedure.
Moreover, the Election Commission head, Thein Soe, said in March that international monitors would not be allowed into Burma during polling, given the country’s “extensive experience” with elections. The last polls to be held in Burma were in 1990.