Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Ruling party’s quiet campaign in Mon State

On the monsoon-drenched streets of Mawlamyine there is little sight or sound of election rallies aside from a convoy of National League for Democracy vehicles blaring campaign songs.

USDP campaign pamphlets are folded in Mawlamyine. (Zarni Phyo/The Myanmar Times)USDP campaign pamphlets are folded in Mawlamyine. (Zarni Phyo/The Myanmar Times)

But while its main rival, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, is shying away from holding rallies in urban areas of Mon State, out in the countryside the ruling party is quietly canvassing from door to door. Ethnic parties too are focusing on rural areas that are home to 72 percent of the state’s 2 million people.

U Thant Zin, USDP secretary in Mon State, is running in Paung township for a seat in the state parliament. He says he learned a hard lesson about failure in the 2010 election, when he lost by just 22 votes to an ethnic Mon party candidate.

“I got a good lesson in failing – namely that I didn’t reach all people, just party members,” he told The Myanmar Times with a stern face. “We lost all the seats. No one got into government from the party in my township.”

He is running again in the same constituency – his hometown – with the ambition of becoming agriculture minister in the next Mon State administration. But he notes that the election scene is quite different, with more parties competing compared with 2010 when the NLD boycotted the polls.

U Thant Zin believes the USDP enjoys strong support in three townships – Bilin, Kyaikto and Kyaikmayaw – where people are wary of ethnic Mon populated areas. He highlights the USDP’s embrace of policies to protect “race and religion”.

The USDP has not yet staged big public rallies but it is knocking on doors in three villages a day, says U Thant Zin, predicting the party will take more than 60pc of the vote in the state.

Mon State has 10 townships, each returning one MP to the lower house of parliament, and 1.4 million people eligible to vote in 919 polling stations, according to the election commission.

Some opposition politicians complain that the ruling party has used its powers in government to donate a large amount of money to monks, and to build bridges and roads in rural areas for electoral purposes.

U Aung Naing Oo, a candidate of the All Mon Region Democracy Party in Chaungzon township and a member of the state parliament, feels it is going to be tough winning this time because of competition from the two major parties as well as the Mon National Party.

He is worried about voter apathy and a lack of understanding of politics, especially in remote areas. Casting of advance votes, a source of abuse in the 2010 polls, is also a concern, he says.

He says he has records of USDP candidates donating more than K15 million (US$11,200) to monks and road projects. He did not disclose their names. “I am not concerned about this use of power and money because I have already proved what I have done in five years in parliament,” he said.

U Nyunt Naing, a senior USDP official in Chaungzon, admitted that candidates had supported monks and village development before the official campaign period began on September 8. But this was not electioneering, he said.

“The candidates are from wealthy family backgrounds so they have always supported religion and people in the past,” he said.

The NLD is using different tactics in its quest to win votes. The party’s campaign convoys started constantly plying the streets of Mawlamyine on September 23, despite the rain, carrying giant signboards and flags in party red.

Their door-to-door campaign began on the opening day and U Khin Saung, NLD chair in the state, says they have covered nearly all villages in the 10 constituencies and aim to complete a second round before the November 8 vote.

He complained of pressure from the authorities in several townships, especially in Mudon where Mon State Chief Minister U Ohn Myint – a former minister for mines in Nay Pyi Taw – is contesting a seat for the USDP.

Ko Lin Htain, a resident of Nai Prai village near Mudon, said local administrators promised that those voting for the ruling party would get national identity documents quickly. “I have never seen anything like that. Before the ID cards could not be got easily,” he said.

U Than Win, director-general of the state immigration office, denied that the issuing of cards was to benefit any political party. “That is unacceptable,” he said. He added that under what is known as the Moe Pwint project they had issued 90,798 ID cards since the start of the year, and would issue nearly 80,700 more by the end of 2015.

U Phay Tin, NLD chair in Mudon, accused the government of manipulating administrators and election officials to restrict the NLD campaign.

He said the Mudon election commission did not allow campaign rallies along the main road of the town, citing the problem of traffic jams, while local officials often withheld permission for public gatherings.