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The party headed by Burmese prime minister Thein Sein is looking to recruit half of Burma’s eligible voters to its membership, which would swell its support base and elections war chest.
Around 15 million people would be recruited by the end of August, according to Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) directives, a source close to the party told DVB. Burma’s Election Commission (EC) has said that the country holds 30 million eligible voters.
“The [USDP] leadership ordered that if there are 20,000 voters in a township, 10,000 of them must be on the [party’s] member list,” the source said. “This is mainly to build up the member strength. [USDP officials] were told to submit the list of members, which would amount to 50 percent of the voters, by the end of August.”
The party has allegedly been offering incentives to members, who are required to pay 1000 kyat (US$1) to join. If it fulfils its quota, then the USDP could have a campaign war chest of some US$15 million. Furthermore, this figure doesn’t take into account money it will receive from its low-interest loan programme being use to lure new recruits.
It is the attraction of such incentives that has pushed vast numbers of people to join the party, despite acknowledging that they are ignorant of its policies. Thein Sein appears to be capitalising on the economic hardships that have been brought about by military rule, with average annual wages estimated to be around US$200 a year.
All this comes on top of complaints by competing parties that the USDP, which includes a number of current government ministers, has been given preferential treatment by the EC.
However some USDP campaign officials have reportedly told their seniors of difficulties in recruiting new members, and have had to seek assistance from local government authorities. The source said that resentment of the party among Burmese people was widespread, but implied that coercive recruitment of members was underway with the help of local authorities.
This is despite USDP members being instructed to maintain a low profile around local Ward Peace and Development Council (WPDC) offices so that no impression is given of a relationship between the government and the party widely tipped to win elections this year.
The party has been distributing an 81-page manifesto detailing policies and party structure among township-level USDP leaders, which can be used in recruiting new members.