PM asked to sever junta ties

A group standing for elections in Burma this year has urged the party headed by prime minister Thein Sein to ensure its independence from the current military government.

Thein Sein’s role in the coming elections has drawn heavy criticism from observers who warn that the polls are designed to extend military rule in Burma. He will head the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which has been given a head start in campaigning and is widely tipped to take office.

But a statement released last week by the Union Democratic Party (UDP) said that “only when a boundary is set between the [USDP and government], can we the political parties be clear about our capacity”.

Phyo Min Thein, UDP leader, said that the lines between current government ministers, the USDP and self-professed independent Election Commission – the supreme authority during the polls – is blurred.

“So there maybe controversies, inside the country and also internationally, regarding free and fair elections and we would like to have some clarification before these circumstances occur,” he said.

He also urged the government to release political prisoners prior to the elections and reduce the political party candidate fee, which stands at 500,000 kyat ($US500) and may be beyond the reach of many parties. The junta should also announce date for the elections soon, he added.

Other hopefuls for Burma’s first elections in two decades have complained that preferential treatment given to the USDP has hindered the chances of other parties running for office. The USDP’s social wing, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), allegedly began canvassing voters some weeks ago, while reports of coercion of civilians by the USDA have already surfaced.

Last week 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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