PM’s party claims 18m members

The pro-junta juggernaut Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has 18 million members and will automatically win more than 50 seats in parliament, its general secretary has said.

The USDP is by a stretch the strongest party competing in Burma’s 7 November polls, and will field 1112 candidates across the 1158 constituencies demarcated for the vote. In 52 of these, it faces no competition.

Led by current Prime Minister Thein Sein and bolstered by the inclusion of nearly 30 retired junta officials, it is expected to sweep the board. Reports claim it has been enticing voters with low-interest loans and receives the hushed endorsement of the military’s top brass.

It has also inherited the huge wealth and the majority of the 26 million-strong membership of the junta’s so-called “civic organisation”, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which was disbanded in July.

Htay Oo, general secretary of the party and the current government’s agriculture minister, told a press conference on Wednesday that the USDP “got to purge from it [USDA] all civil servants and students…” while the remaining joined the new party.

He denied accusations that the USDP had received funding from the government, and instead said that the gleaming six-storey Rangoon building that has become its headquarters was also inherited from the USDA and built with USDA funds.

But critics claim that the junta provided the bulk of the USDA’s funding; allegations that are reinforced by the fact that senior junta officials played key roles in the USDA, while Senior General Than Shwe founded and became the organisation’s leading patron.

Htay Oo added that the party had already appointed a person to be the president if it wins the polls next week, Burma’s first in 20 years. He is standing as a candidate for the Nationalities Parliament in the Hinthada constituency in Burma’s southern Irrawaddy division.

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