USDA turns to religious propaganda

A new group formed to accommodate the 20 million-odd members of the recently-disbanded Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) will operate under the pretext of propagating Buddhist doctrine.

A source close to the USDA, which until its dissolution was a powerful government-proxy ‘social’ organisation, told DVB that the group’s new name was Śāsana Noggaha Association, which translates as the Association for the Propagation of Śāsana. Śāsana is a term used by Buddhists to refer to their religion.

“The group is formed to accommodate government employees [former USDA members] who cannot join political parties,” he said. “All the [group’s] procedures are decided by the government.” He added that a signboard would be erected outside its new office but the group could not yet formally open.

The disbandment of the USDA came several months after Burma’s prime minister, Thein Sein, announced he would be competing in elections this year as a candidate for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Suspicions stem from several areas: aside from the similarity of the names, senior USDA officials are known to hold close relations with junta ministers, while junta chief Than Shwe, second-in-command Maung Aye and Prime Minister Thein Sein are members of the group’s Central Panel of Patrons.

But no official link has been made between the USDA and USDP, and the USDP has dismissed allegations that it is an arm of the ruling junta. The source told DVB however that USDP members have been instructed to maintain a low profile around local Ward Peace and Development Council (WPDC) offices so that no impression is given of a relationship between the government and the party widely tipped to win elections this year.

“Instead the WPDCs have to send a list of government workers in their wards to the USDP offices discreetly, so the party has complete information on the existence of government workers in every household. This will allow them to campaign very easily.”

Reports emerged last week that property and funds owned by the USDA would be transferred to Thein Sein’s party. The USDA owns swathes of property across the country and its vast membership base has generated sizeable wealth.

The allegations were heavily criticised by candidates looking to compete in the elections this year, many of whom have already complained that preferable treatment was being given by the government-appointed Election Commission to the USDP. The main argument has been that USDA property is owned by the state, and therefore should not be inherited by a political party.

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