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USDA Disbands, Paving a Dreadful Path for USDP Dominance

By Burma Partnership  •  July 19, 2010

Last week, Burma’s military regime began dividing the assets of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) from those of its political counterpart, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), headed by Prime Minister Thein Sein. The USDP has come under fire from critics and opposition parties for its lack of regard for election regulations but the association’s move to separate assets appeared to be a token step towards transparency. Indeed, a senior military official noted that the “[USDP] will purchase buildings, vehicles and office equipment from the association. They need to do it according to the election law.”

Now it appears that the party has found a way around this regulation.

“From now on, there will not be the USDA but we will continue as a political party,” stated USDA spokesman, “We have officially transferred all our assets to the party according to the central [executive] committee’s decision.” Even before this news, a leading USDP member bragged to visiting Australian officials that the party had enough funds because they were inherited from the USDA.

It is not surprising that their central executive committee is keen on providing the political party with as many assets and advantages as possible. Given that Senior General Than Shwe and other leading generals make up the USDA’s Central Panel of Patrons and leading ministers comprise the association’s central executive committee, USDA’s leadership is undeniably intertwined with the current regime and dedicated to preserving its power. Masquerading as a “social welfare” organization, the USDA has demonstrated its “commitment” to the safety and welfare of the people of Burma by not only retaining the political standing of the leading officials responsible for the devastating Depayin Massacre, but have allowed those very officials to found and lead the USDP.

The USDP is able not only to appropriate USDA funds and assets, but also their political and social clout. In a recent poll of citizens in Rangoon, over 90% of those surveyed begrudgingly predicted that the USDP would win the upcoming elections, with some recipients of USDA/USDP’s social work forced to voting for the USDP in return for the benefits.

The disbanding of the USDA now makes it undeniably clear that the USDP is nothing but the political manifestation of the USDA. As one observer noted, “This is neither the abolishment of the USDA nor its assets transferred to somewhere else. This is just a name change from USDA to USDP.”

It appears that the junta itself recognizes the problematic nature of the formation of the USDP. The ministry of information has further tightened censorship controls, with “any critical questions on the formation of the USDP in journals have been removed by the censorship board” as well as “indirect mention or quotes in journals that contrast the formation of the USDP under Prime Minster Thein Sein with the election law”.

The regime’s cautious behavior is not surprising in light of their hypocrisy. The Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP) has been declared ineligible to form as a political party due to its links to the ceasefire group Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). Six former KIO leaders resigned in September 2009 to form KSPP – a much greater time lag between resignation and party registration than that of the leaders of the USDP. The International Crisis Group noted that the Election Commission’s refusal is likely in part a form of punishment for KIO’s rejection of the Border Guard Force proposal.

The junta’s hypocrisy is not new, but this recent disregard for election regulations and the principles of democracy cannot go overlooked by international governments. The international community must recognize the USDP for what it is – a political manifestation of a ruthless junta-run association responsible for the Depayin Massacre and possessing all the political and financial assets required to dominate an election. A USDP-led government in Burma will not be a step toward democracy, but rather a continuation of the current regime.

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