USDP 'sapping' election hopes

Ethnic parties eyeing Burma’s elections this year have complained that the party headed by Burma’s prime minister Thein Sein, which was given a head-start in campaigning, is hindering the efforts of other parties.

The social wing of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), has reportedly been recruiting party members in various parts of Burma even prior to the USDP being given permission by the Election Commission to campaign.

The USDP, led by the junta’s second-in-command, Thein Sein, is expected to win what critics of the Burmese junta have decried as a sham election aimed at entrenching military rule.

“We went for [a field campaign] in the Wa villages in the mountains [of Burma’s northeastern Shan state] and found out we were steps behind the USDP,” said Luk Pao, the chairman of the Wa National Unity Party, adding that the USDA had already been to these places to collect lists of civilians to be recruited into the USDP.

A retired government official in Chin state told DVB that USDA leaders were directed to recruit 50 party members each, while other reports of coercion of civilians by the USDA have already surfaced.

“I heard the original USDA members were told they will be transferred to the USDP as party candidates and are required to recruit 50 members each,” he said. “[Campaign activity in the region] is just mainly by the USDP. The Chin National Party has been approaching individuals but we didn’t see much people supporting them.”

Hopeful candidates have complained that the USDP was given preferential treatment by the Election Commission and granted approval to run in the elections early on, while other parties struggled with the registration process and hefty finances required to run.

Threats against civilians by USDA officials are also said to be forcing more people to join the party. Phyo Min Thein, from the Union Democracy Party, said that influential USDA members are warning people that communicating with opposition parties will result in “their livelihoods being ruined”.

On Monday it was revealed that USDA members had been appointed by the Election Commission to guard ballot boxes during the elections, scheduled for later this year, further calling into question the integrity of the polls.

The Election Commission head, Thein Soe, said in May that international election monitors “would not be welcome” in Burma, given the country’s “past experience” with elections. The last polls in 1990 were beseiged by controversy after the government ignored a landslide victory by the National League for Democracy (NLD), which has boycotted this year’s election.

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