Pro-junta parties to dominate Mandalay

The two leading pro-junta parties in Burma’s looming elections will stand alone in half the constituencies in Mandalay division, where the secretive capital Naypyidaw is located.

The National Unity Party (NUP) and Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the two strongest by a length in terms of numbers of candidates, stand as the only competition to one another in 57 of Mandalay’s 104 constituencies, the Weekly Eleven Journal has reported.

Mandalay is the second-most populous of Burma’s 14 states and divisions, with around 6.3 million people.

The news follows an announcement last week by the Election Commission (EC) that only one candidate will run in 54 of the 1158 constituencies in Burma. The head of the junta-appointed EC, Thein Soe, said that it is therefore not necessary to hold balloting in those areas.

More than 1,100 candidates have been fielded by the USDP, which is headed by Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein and looks set to win the 7 November polls. The NUP has close to 1000, while the strongest opposition party, the National Democratic Force (NDF), will field only 163.

The huge financial clout of the USDP, which evolved from the junta’s so-called civic wing, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), has meant that it can afford the 500,000 kyat (US$500) required for each candidate, while smaller parties have fallen by the wayside. It is also bolstered by the presence of nearly 30 retired junta officials.

Relations between the USDP and NUP, which came second in the 1990 elections, are said to be strained – NUP spokesman Han Shwe appeared to dispel conjecture that the two were natural allies when he told DVB last month that the USDP “was competition”.

The NUP is also attempting to sue the USDP over allegations of foul play during campaigning for Burma’s first elections in 20 years. Critics say that the might of the USDP means the result is a foregone conclusion, while pledges by the junta that Burma will switch to civilian rule have been countered with the fact that 25 percent of parliamentary seats are already reserved for the military.

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