Rapper to contest seat in Burma’s capital

Popular rapper, activist and former political prisoner Zayar Thaw says he will contest a seat in the looming by-elections in Naypyidaw, the secretive Burmese capital built six years ago.

The 31-year-old will stand as a candidate for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), which is fielding members in all 48 vacant constituencies. One of these is Pobba Thiri township in Naypyidaw, to where the country’s administrative capital was relocated in 2005 by former junta chief Than Shwe.

Since his release from prison in May last year, Zayar Thaw has become a popular figure in the political opposition, and has built a close relationship with NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also running for parliament.

The NLD will field candidates in three other Naypyidaw constituencies. In the November 2010 elections, seats in the capital were swept up by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but a number were later vacated after MPs were appointed to cabinet positions.

But like the NLD, the USDP is also looking to challenge for all 48 available seats in parliament. While observers cried foul of the 2010 vote, which was dogged by allegations of voter intimidation and corruption, parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann has promised the 1 April by-elections will be free and fair.

Zayar Thaw is likely to gain significant support for his campaign. He rose to fame with Acid, one of Burma’s first hip hop groups who gained an enthusiastic following. Its first album, Beginning, also hailed as Burma’s first home-produced hip hop offering, spent several weeks at the top of the charts.

Following the September 2007 uprising, he co-founded the Generation Wave (GW) youth activist group, known for their guerrilla-style methods of distributing subversive material in coffee shops around Rangoon.

But after the uprising he spent three years in Kawthaung prison in southernmost Burma, and emerged last year, two months after the new government came to power, highly critical of the state of affairs in Burma. With a change of direction, however, he seems somewhat optimistic that genuine change is underway.

“I began as a political activist to express myself and this is the first step I’m taking to stand as a politician – this is my first try so it may not be perfect but I will learn step by step,” he told DVB. “What I can tell now is that as a youth, I will try to make the best of my fresh and youthful ideas.”

The NLD hopes the injection of fresh faces alongside its revered senior leaders such as Suu Kyi will give it a strong chance of success in April. “We assume the new line-up will give us more chance of winning,” spokesperson Ohn Kyaing said.

Suu Kyi has stressed her wish to see more females compete in April. Only a handful of the 1,000-plus MPs in Burma are women, and none were elected to cabinet positions.

Phyu Phyu Thin, the popular female HIV/AIDS activist, will compete in Mingalar Taungnyunt township inRangoon, one of around 12 women put forward for the vote by the NLD.

How much influence the party will be able to wield in parliament remains to be seen, given the dominance of military officials and the USDP, which won around 80 percent of the vote in 2010.

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