Politicians rue ‘no vote’ campaign

Two politicians running for elections next month have said that the ‘no vote’ campaign promoted by opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s party will scupper any chances of democratic reform in Burma.

One of the hopefuls, Thu Wei, from the Democratic Party (DP), told DVB that it is “very likely” that the opposition will lose the 7 November polls if Burmese decide not to head to the ballot stations. The DP is one of a small handful of opposition parties contesting the polls, Burma’s first in two decades.

“There is the question of what kind of people will boycott the elections, and the answer is only those who dislike the military government. This will make it very convenient for the government and the USDP,” he said.

But the opposition appears to have a mountain to climb if it is to gain any leverage in a post-election Burma: the DP will only field 60 candidates, while the USDP, or Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is headed by Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein and is expected to win, has close to 1000.

Moreover, it is widely believed that the USDP has the tacit backing of Burma’s top brass, whom critics say are looking to maintain power under the guise of a civilian government.

The boycott debate has split the pro-democracy movement both inside the country and internationally: instead of the elections being a question of who to vote for, the discourse now focuses on whether any vote would weaken or strengthen the military regime.

“If people are not voting, it would only make us and other democratic parties lose votes and lead the government parties to win,” Thu Wei added.

Following the disbandment of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), a number of senior members formed the National Democratic Force (NDF), which is now fielding around 160 candidates for the vote. The formation of the party however angered the old guard of the NLD, which has been pushing for a nationwide boycott of the elections.

But Thu Wei’s views were echoed by Sai Ai Pao, chairman of the Shan National Democratic Party (SNDP), who said that a boycott would further weaken what are already slim chances of any opposition clout in the new parliament.

Numbers of constituencies are reported to have only one candidate standing, likely belonging to the USDP which is fielding candidates in all of Burma’s constituencies. As well as political power, the USDP is also believed to have massive financial backing – a key factor given that each party has to pay 500,000 kyat ($US500) per candidate. The average annual salary in Burma is little more than US$200 per person.

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