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A number of political parties registered for elections this year, including that of Burma’s prime minister Thein Sein, are reluctant to publicise their intentions in the media, candidates have claimed.
The primary reason for lack of party publicity is the “climate of fear” that parties are operating in, said Win Naing, a nationalist politician who is trying to establish an election watchdog. He added that this would extend to voters unless conditions inside the country are transformed.
Some 39 parties have so far registered for elections this year, although they face significant obstacles to campaigning: election laws announced in May prohibit parties from boosting their profile via erecting banners and chanting in public. Moreover, any form of public canvassing can only be done once permission is granted by the Election Commission.
Win Naing’s observations were echoed by Phyo Min Thein, chairman of the Union Democratic Party (UDP), who said that even Thein Sein’s party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), had remained quiet about their policies.
Another politician, Tun Aung Kyaw, who heads the Modern People’s Party, said however that it may be down to teething problems, given the relatively recent birth of the multiparty system.
“The people in Burma are also new to democracy and are not accustomed to the system,” he said. “Of course, there can be [communication] difficulties in the initial phases. But, we are in a globalization era, so we can expect gradual progress. Countries which are newly democratised usually face such a phenomenon.”
Instead, it is up to international media to initiate contact with reluctant parties, said Aung Zaw, editor of the Thailand-based Irrawaddy magazine.
“Very few of them tried to reach us,” he said. “My personal view is that political parties and opposition parties inside the country need to get hold of the local media as well as the media outside the country and should report about what they are doing. They still need to do a lot more to publicize and establish lines of communication.”
He added that media inside and outside Burma face difficulties in getting reports from the constituencies inside the country in the pre-election period. This may also be a problem during the election period.
Around 30 million people are eligible to vote in the elections, out of a population of nearly 50 million. No date has yet been set, and candidates have warned that insufficient time may be given to effectively campaign prior to polling.
The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said last month however that progress had been made by the country’s Election Commission (EC) on the specifics of the voting procedures.
“The [EC] chairman and the commission members…defined constituencies, made lists of eligible voters, designated places for polling stations, and held discussions on electoral matters,” it said, but gave no further details on when the information would be made public.