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Just five days after opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi held a rally at Thuwanna pagoda, the ruling Union and Solidarity Development Party (USDP) attracted roughly 10,000 people decked out in green at the very same spot for their own final campaign push.
Supporters were trucked in by the dozens, donning caps and sporting USDP stickers. Hours before the rally started in east Rangoon’s Thingangyun township, bands played pop songs as people waited under the shade of green umbrellas. Meanwhile, workers struggled last minute to put up a giant poster of President Thein Sein on the stage.
This crowd was a more tepid version of Sunday’s National League for Democracy (NLD) rally, when tens of thousands of people swarmed the field, dancing and singing in anticipation of Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrival. While volunteers navigated traffic on the road outside, cars slowed down to a snail’s pace because of crimson-clad supporters weaving through it.
Local woman Thein Thi, 27, stood in the shade waiting for the rally to begin. “I live in a USDP neighbourhood, so I am a supporter,” she said, giving only a thumbs up when once asked about her party’s chances of winning.
First-time voter Hlwan Moe Oo, 20, was more enthusiastic about the party’s chances.
“I believe that this party has changed the Myanmar [Burmese] people’s lives. Our situation cannot change in a short time but [the USDP] has made the steps,” Hlwan Moe said. “We will change to a more developed country and we will be able to have a stronger business [sector] here.”
When Nanda Kyaw Swar, a parliamentary vice-speaker who is running as a Dagon Township candidate for a Lower House seat, finally took the stage at around 4 pm, the crowd had filled up about the half the field. At one point, he employed a sexist marital reference in order to belittle Aung San Suu Kyi, though she was not directly named.
“Between a husband and a wife, the husband always has to decide the big decisions,” Nanda Kyaw Swar said. “One woman cannot decide the main issues or make the big decisions in this country.”
He also exhorted the crowd to look to present changes in the country, saying that the people need to live in the present.
“Now we are living in the 20th century, and people should make decisions based on this century. Don’t hold old memories about the past,” Nanda Kyaw Swar said. “Today is a successful day for the green party…. We have won already.”
Political analyst Yan Myo Thein said that the USDP probably held the rally in the same spot because authorities had rejected many places for the NLD to convene before they finally agreed on the field outside Thuwanna pagoda. What was interesting was the timing of it, which he said showcased the party’s insecurity about their hold in Rangoon.
“It’s because of their fear, especially in the Yangon [Rangoon] region, where I think the National League for Democracy party will win majority of the seats, he said, dismissing Nanda Kyaw Swar’s words about the NLD leader as “nonsense.”
“Actually, what he said in the rally is meaningless. I think the majority of people in Burma agree that Aung San Suu Kyi can lead the country, and is capable of leading Myanmar towards democratisation,” Yan Myo Thein said.
Khin May Than disagreed. A staunch supporter of the ruling party since 1993, the 42-year-old said that the USDP has already proven itself with the developments in recent years, such as providing her with access to better telephone service.
“I am not worried about the NLD winning,” she said. “I have to trust in my party and that we will win.”