Myanmar parties say they can’t effectively challenge junta in elections because of high fees

Monday, August 30, 2010

Myanmar parties complain election fee too high

YANGON, Myanmar — Political parties challenging Myanmar’s ruling junta in the country’s first election in two decades said they can’t afford to compete in every constituency because of the exorbitant fees charged to register candidates.

All candidates contesting the Nov. 7 elections are required to pay the Election Commission a fee of 500,000 kyat ($500) by Monday — a staggering sum in a country where the average schoolteacher’s monthly salary is $70.

The junta is portraying the elections as a key step in shifting to civilian rule after five decades of military domination, but critics call them a sham and say the military shows little sign of relinquishing control. The system of registering candidates is one of many that critics point to as weighted in the junta’s favor.

The junta announced the election date on Aug. 13 and gave parties just over two weeks to submit their candidate lists by the end of the day Monday. Parties complained the deadline was too rushed to allow them to enlist potential candidates nationwide and that the registration fee was prohibitively expensive. One petitioned the junta to reduce the registration fee and extend the deadline but was ignored.

Candidates are vying for a total of 1,162 seats, including 498 seats in Myanmar’s two-chamber Union Parliament and 664 seats spread among 14 regional parliaments.

Parties generally contribute to a candidate’s registration fees, but, because of a lack of funds, many say they have been forced to scale back the number of contenders making it impossible to effectively challenge to junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, or USDP, which is fielding a candidate for every seat available.

The party of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is boycotting the election, which it says is undemocratic and unfair. Her National League for Democracy party won the last election in 1990 by a landslide, but the junta refused to honor the results.

The National Democratic Force, formed by renegade members of Suu Kyi’s party, expects to field “at least 140 candidates” for both houses as well as regional parliaments, said Than Nyein, the party chairman.

“We wanted to field more candidates but due to financial restraints, we may not be able to field as many candidates as we wanted,” said Than Nyein.

But in the absence of Suu Kyi’s party, no opposition party has a major national presence.

The only party that comes close is the National Unity Party, previously known as the Burma Socialist Programme party, which will field over 300 candidates for the national legislature and about 500 for regional parliaments. But the party lacks popularity — it won only 10 seats in the last election — and is not considered competition for the junta as people remain hostile toward past socialist governments.

(This version CORRECTS that parties contribute to candidate fees, not pay them in full.)

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