Sunday, 27 May 2018

Political parties have hit the campaign trail in northern Arakan State as Burma prepares for its first election in 20 years, said an opposition candidate from Maungdaw Township who asked not to be named.

National Democratic Party for Development (NDPD) members traveled throughout Maungdaw Township earlier this week, visiting the villages of Bawli Bazar, Mangla Gyi (Paran Pru), Kyauk Hla Gar and Krat Ru Pyin and talking to local residents.

The supporters of NDPD said that prior to recent campaigning, most villages had expressed support for Union Solidarity and Development Party candidates, but that recent campaigning had seemed to change many people’s minds.

The other three parties contesting next month’s election in Maungdaw Township include the USDP, the National Unity Party (NUP) and the National Development and Peace Party (NDPP).

The USDP has been allowed to campaign for more than a month ago, but the NDPD has been forced to apply in advance for permission to campaign in venues other than their office in Maungdaw town, said a Maungdaw resident who asked not to be named.

Moreover, USDP, NDPP and NUP parties have been able to raise a considerable amount of money for the election, while the NDPD has only limited financial resources and have largely limited its campaigning, the resident said.

Reports have emerged from village residents that the USDP has been selling its membership cards for the last several days at a price of 500 Kyat. Every village authority is ordered to sell the USDP cards in their areas.

Residents who have seen the cards told Kaladan News that it contains a photograph of the member, along with the member’s name, the name of the member’s parents, occupation, permanent address and membership number.

But the NDPD party has continued to struggle to find funds for their campaign.

“We do not have enough money. We cannot do much work. But we walk to reach every village in Maungdaw Township,” said one NDPD organizer.

This is in sharp contrast to reports that USDP candidates go from village to village in a luxury SUV brought in from Rangoon, said a local village elder in Maungdaw.

More than 3,000 candidates from 37 parties will contest the November 7 elections, with 1,171 seats available in national and regional parliaments, Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win told the UN General Assembly last month in New York.

Burma has been under military rule since 1962, and activists and western governments say the upcoming election is aimed at simply at solidifying the military’s control.

Burma’s constitution, adopted in 2008, reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military, while the junta’s proxy parties are considered to have a major advantage in contesting the remaining seats.

Under Burma’s restrictive campaigning rules, candidates for all parties are barred from holding flags or chanting in processions and are prohibited from distributing any publication deemed to blemish the image of the ruling junta.

Markedly absent from campaigning is the National League for Democracy (NLD), which one the 1990 election in a landslide but was never allowed to take control of the government.

The NLD was dissolved earlier this year after its decision not to participate in the November 7 election.

Some voters in Maungdaw are taking a purely practical approach to the upcoming vote.

“I know nothing and I am not interested in politics,” said a day laborer from Maungdaw. “I only know that I will get 2,000 kyats for any work that I do. That will be enough to support my family for one day.”