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The director of Burma’s official electoral body, the Union Election Commission (UEC), told DVB on Thursday that plans are in motion to change the regulations for election campaigning so that candidates may only campaign in their respective constituencies. He said the new regulation would also prohibit fellow party members or party leaders from campaigning in a constituency on another candidate’s behalf.
The move will undoubtedly be seen by Burma watchers as an attempt to rein in opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has led the campaign for her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), across the country during previous elections. Burma’s next general election is scheduled for late 2015.
“Regarding election campaigning, we are looking to introduce a new directive to revise the regulation that previously allowed individuals appointed by election candidates to campaign in constituencies on their behalf,” said UEC director Thaung Hlaing. “This will make the procedure more compact and ensure free and fair elections.”
He said that several amendments on electoral bylaws and regulations, including a curb on the allocated period for campaigning, will be officially announced in the near future after meetings with political parties.
Thu Wai, chairman of the Democratic Party-Myanmar, criticised the UEC’s revision of regulations, insisting it is completely normal for party leaders to campaign in support of their candidates.
“It is the responsibility of party leaders to assist their candidates’ campaigns in constituencies across the country – this is how it has been done in the past, based on our experience with elections,” he said.
NLD central executive committee member Win Myint told DVB that he believes this new regulation will damage the election’s credibility.
“If this new regulation is approved [by the UEC], the 2015 elections will not be free and fair – this makes it obvious the authorities are already looking to play dirty,” said Win Myint.
During the 2012 by-elections, NLD leader Suu Kyi travelled across the country to campaign for her party’s candidates running for seats in 44 constituencies. The NLD won 43 of the by-election polls; Suu Kyi herself was elected in the southwestern Rangoon constituency of Kawhmu.
The UEC announced less than two weeks ago that it also planned to curb the campaign period for by-elections scheduled to take place later this year.
Tin Aye, the UEC chairman, told DVB that the Commission will cut the time period for campaigning at the upcoming by-elections from its current duration of three months; however, he said it had not been decided yet what the new campaign period would be.
“Political parties often voice the opinion that the time allowed for election campaigns is rather short. However this is not the case compared to other countries – for example in Malaysia, they only allow two weeks’ campaigning whereas we currently allow three months,” he said.
“We are planning to curb the amount of time allowed for campaigning as we believe the longer the period, the more violence there will be.”