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“Democracy” in Burma Exemplified by USDP’s Manipulative Electioneering

By Burma Partnership  •  May 24, 2010

As Burma moves closer to still unannounced election date, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is moving ahead in full force with its electioneering efforts across the country. Reports of election canvassing and vote buying arose well in advance of party registration, but USDP’s registration approval has allowed for even more extensive electioneering throughout ethnic areas.

In Chin State, the USDA has been forcibly issuing cards to government employees and others. People have been forced to pay 3,000 Kyat per card and have been threatened into voting for USDP candidates. These actions have been accompanied by an Immigration Department census conducted in Chin State of adults over 18 years, much like the census conducted in 2008 prior to the constitutional referendum. Residents are worried that family members who are working abroad will be deleted from the family registration card, making them no longer citizens of Burma.

In Tenasserim Division, USDP members have been canvassing neighborhoods door to door, filling out membership application forms for residents without explaining the document or their actions, with civilians too afraid to ask questions. Local residents noted that this method of forced campaigning also mirrored SPDC actions before the 2008 constitutional referendum.

In Shan State, USDP is conducting a parallel recruiting campaign, using USDA members to pressure village leaders to collect household lists and members for the party. Youths in Kengtung Township above the age of 15 are being forced to apply for USDA membership or face blacklisting for high treason. Local residents are far from pleased. “USDA say we should become PM Thein Sein’s party members because he had developed our town and built pagodas for us,” a female resident said. “But we don’t see any development in our town.” This tight association between the USDP and USDA has raised many concerns about the legality of the USDP and its political efforts.

Civilians are growing increasingly cynical as the USDP exercises its significantly unfair advantage in the election campaigns and civilians are only being exposed to the USDP’s propaganda. “The government asks us to vote for them. We have no information about the elections or other parties,” a farmer in Karenni State noted. “The election is only for the military regime and not for us. We don’t want to support it, but when the time comes they will force us to vote. During the referendum vote I was forced to vote ‘yes’ even though I wanted to vote ‘no’”.

The junta is also noticeably targeting a new voting constituency—the Rohingya.  The SPDC’s Deputy Home Minister held a meeting in Maungdaw Township, Arakan State, where there is a dense Rohingya population . Speaking to over 2,000 people, the Deputy Home Minister declared, “Rohingya people have the right to vote and to be elected. Other parties will come for election campaigns to woo the people, but they should not be believed. I believe that all the Rohingya people will cast votes for USDP candidates.” The USDP has also nominated several Rohingya in Arakan State to mobilize the community in Maungdaw and Buthidaung and is set to open a Regional Development Office that would provide for social services and develop infrastructure in Rohingya areas.

While it may appear promising for parties to reach out to the often-neglected Rohingya community, the USDP’s efforts appear to be empty promises given the SPDC’s long history of institutionalized discrimination of the Rohingya population. Only last year, the top SPDC official in Hong Kong spoke to foreign officials and the media about the Rohingyas, stating that they were as “ugly as ogres” and therefore should not be considered to be from Burma.

The USDA has made their motives blatantly clear during the ongoing water shortage. The organization has ordered volunteer organizations to mark their vehicles with USDA flags and harrassed aid workers. Most appallingly, the USDA arranged for posed water distributions only to send vehicles full of water back to where they came from following photo opportunities. They have made it extremely clear that the well-being of the people is not a priority.

The USDA and USDP have been careful not to let any opportunity to court public favor go by, albeit by force and manipulation. Photo ops, empty promises and forced memberships are not ingredients for genuinely democratic elections, but under the current regime, the people of Burma are unlikely to experience anything better during the military’s 2010 elections.

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