Burma’s seven geographical divisions have been relabelled as “regions” for the country’s second parliament as canvassing continues, with the prime minister and head of a competing party issuing a warning to voters.
The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Saturday announced that along the with the changes for the divisions, the area around the new capital, Naypyidaw, has been renamed ‘Naypyidaw district’, and carved up into eight townships to form the Union Territories.
It is all in keeping with the controversial 2008 constitution, which will come into force following elections on 7 November – Burma’s first in two decades. Some 330 constituencies have already been drawn for the People’s Parliament, and the latest changes are in lieu of the formation of the Regions Parliament.
Burma is made up of seven divisions and seven states, the latter home to the country’s sizeable ethnic minority populations which largely populate the border regions. With the formation of the Union Territories, a new ‘region’ will be added.
So-called “self-administered zones” have also been delineated in the Wa and Danu areas of Shan state, and the Naga area in Sagaing division. The three are all names of ethnic minority groups in Burma, from where a number of pro-government parties have emanated.
Critics of the ruling junta, which has ruled Burma in various guises since 1962, have decried the elections as a sham aimed at cementing military rule. They are only the second set of polls to be held since the coup in 1962, and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) headed by current prime minister, Thein Sein, has been widely tipped to win.
The New Light of Myanmar today paraphrased a speech given by Thein Sein on Sunday extolling the virtues of the elections and the need to defend Burma from “destructive acts”.
“In conclusion, the Prime Minister urged people to choose good, smart, patriotic persons who want to serve the national interest upholding the policy of nondisintegration of the Union,” it added.
He’ll be joined in the party by a number of other current government ministers, likely including Foreign Minister Nyan Win. It is not clear what will happen to junta supremo, Than Shwe, who has ruled Burma since 1992.
Sai Hla Kyaw, a senior official in the Shan National Democratic Party (SNDP), said that the looming deadline for submission of candidate lists to the Election Commission (EC) meant that competition may be weak, with the USDP able to offer incentives to would-be members.
“There were cases with the USDP drawing away our potential candidates by offering them a lot of advantages and in some cases, some individuals had no choice to but follow them,” he told DVB.
Additional reporting by Nay Thwin