Myanmar junta’s proxy party opens offices in preparation for polls

Friday, August 20, 2010

Myanmar junta proxy party opens offices

YANGON, Myanmar — A political party backed by Myanmar’s ruling junta opened offices across the country Friday — months after the main opposition group was forced to close theirs — as preparations begin for a general election in November.

A spokesman for the Union Solidarity and Development Party said it had opened its headquarters in administrative capital of Naypyitaw and other branches across the country, including 50 township, district and division offices in Yangon, the country’s biggest city. The party is led by Prime Minister Thein Sein.

Myanmar will hold elections on Nov. 7, the first in two decades. The National League for Democracy party of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which won the last election in 1990 but was barred from taking power, is boycotting the polls.

The NLD was officially disbanded in May because it declined to register for the vote, though its leaders made clear they are keeping the organization together to continue its struggle for democracy.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party was formed from a junta-backed mass social organization called the Union Solidarity and Development Association, founded in 1993 and drawing much of its support from the country’s vast civil service. In April this year it was turned into a political party, just a few days after Thein Sein and 26 Cabinet colleagues in uniform resigned their military posts to make them eligible to take part in politics. It is widely expected to win the most votes in the election.

In Yangon, it was Mayor Aung Thein Linn who unveiled the party signboard, shouting “Victory” three times as he did so.

He told reporters that the USDA used to have 26 million members, but after becoming a party had its numbers reduced because it could not legally include civil servants and people under 18 years of age. Another member put the current membership at 1 million.

Aung Thein Linn dismissed international concerns that the polls will not be free and fair.

“Whether the international community accepts the result or not is not important,” Aung Thein Linn said, responding to reporters’ questions. “If the people vote for us we will win.”

Some 47 parties registered for the polls and so far 41 have been permitted.

On Thursday, the junta released its stringent election rules that candidates seek permission a week in advance to campaign and do not make speeches that “tarnish” the ruling military.

NLD Vice Chairman Tin Oo explained the party’s boycott Thursday, saying the military-drafted constitution and election laws would not ensure democracy and human rights in the country. He said the NLD wanted to inform voters that they have the right not to vote.

“We strongly believe that the political parties that are contesting in the election will not be given much chance according to the electoral laws and regulations prescribed,” said Tin Oo.

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