The party led by Burmese prime minister Thein Sein is attempting to entice new supporters by offering financial loans with low rates of interest.
The loans are only available to those who join the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is widely tipped to win controversial elections later this year. Competing candidates have already complained that the party is being given preferential treatment by the Burmese government.
New supporters have even said that they are joining the party entirely ignorant of what its policies are: the average wage in Burma is around US$220 per year and the interest rates on these loans are attractively low.
A Rangoon resident told DVB that the local USDP coordinator for her area asserted that the loans were “for campaigning purposes” and only available to members of the party.
“She said one has to join the party in order to get the loan. The interest is only three percent – the kind of deal you would normally only get from a pawn shop – so a lot of roadside vendors were [joining the party] so they can get the loan for investments.”
Street vendors will receive 60,000 kyat (US$60), while shop owners who rent property from the local municipal will get 500,000 kyat (US$500). A beetle-nut shop owner in Alone township in Rangoon said that he had joined the party and was given a loan.
“I filled in forms for the membership registration and the loan,” he said. “After filling in the forms, I was given 60,000 kyat. They said photos will be taken [for membership purposes] at their office and we have to pay for the photograph and document fees.
A noodle salad shop owner said that, despite not knowing the USDP’s policies, she joined nonetheless in order to receive a loan for her shop.
“I didn’t even read, let alone understand, the party’s policy and directives. I had to answer a question in the registration form about whether I believed in the party, and I answered yes. But I don’t really understand or acknowledge what the group’s policy is.”
The vendors who took the 60,000 kyat loan are to return 2000 kyat (US$2) each day and those who got the 500,000 kyat loan will have to return 103,000 kyat (US$103) per month for five months.
The registration and photography fee for new members is 1500 kyat (US$1.50) plus interest, meaning that the USDP will make 3300 kyat (US$3.30) from the vendors. It is not clear whether they will be given more loans after their debt is paid off.
A number of parties have said that the hefty fees required to run in the elections might prevent them from running effective campaigns: each candidate has to pay 500,000 kyat, on top of an overall 500,000 kyat charge for each competing party.