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The scrutinising of party members for Burma’s elections this year is now underway, with two groups having already submitted member lists to the Election Commission (EC).
Thirty-six parties have so far been approved to run in the elections, out of 42 that initially registered. The two whose lists are now in – the Mro or Khami National Solidarity Organization (MKNSO) and the National Unity Party (NUP) – were both participants in the last elections in 1990.
The NUP, which was formed by members of the current ruling junta and its precursor, the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), came in third with 10 out of 492 seats.
The current political committee secretary of the NUP, Thein Htun, said that the party has around 7,000 members but not everyone was listed in time, “so we might not have names of [members] from every [administrative region]”.
Election laws stipulate that each party has at least 1,000 members to be eligible to run. The date for elections has not yet been set, although the junta announced it would be held in the latter part of this year. Rumours have circulated that it could be held in October.
Critics have decried the elections as a sham aimed at cementing military rule in Burma. A number of competing politicians have said that preferential treatment is being given to the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), headed by Burma’s current prime minister, Thein Sein, which appears to have been given a headstart in campaigning.
It is yet known how many members the MKNSO, whose membership base is predominantly Arakanese, submitted. The party competed for four parliamentary seats in the 1990 elections and won one; party chairman, San Thar Aung, was elected as the parliament’s representative for a constituency in Arakan state’s Kyauk Phyu township.
Phyo Min Thein, the chairman of the Union Democratic Party (UDP), said that around 5,000 membership forms were initially distributed. “We are looking to submit 1,200 members, and because of paperwork requirements we decided to submit only a list of those who are sure [to become members].”
He added that some UDP members in regional offices in such as Shan state, Bago division and Rangoon division were afraid to campaign for fear of intimidation from the USDP and its social wing, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).
“We will welcome Thein Sein really stripping off his military uniform to be tested among the public. Because we are looking for democratic elections, it will be unfair if [the USDP] is already acting like a winning party,” said Phyo Min Thein.