With Friday marking the last day of the campaign period ahead of Burma’s Nov. 8 general election, candidates from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in Naypyidaw held simultaneous morning rallies in each of the capital’s eight townships.
Hla Htay Win, the recently retired chief of general staff for the Burma Army, Navy and Air Force, was among those from the ruling party out on the campaign trail Friday, seeking votes in the contest for Zayarthiri Township’s Lower House seat.
In a speech to the crowd at his USDP office in Zayarthiri, the former general said the party’s campaigning was reaching its crescendo on Friday, building momentum for what the candidate said would be a landslide USDP victory on Sunday.
Zayarthiri is home to a sizeable military contingent, and other contenders for the seat are Khin Myo Thwin of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and Hla Myint of the National Unity Party (NUP).
Following his speech to rally attendees, Hla Htay Win spoke to The Irrawaddy in Naypyidaw about his decision to contest the election.
Why did you decide to run in this constituency?
At first, I thought I would vie for a constituency in Yangon [Rangoon] region because I served as the regional commander of the Yangon Division Military Command. But later, party headquarters said we needed a Lower House candidate to represent Zayarthiri in the [Naypyidaw] Union Territory, so I decided to contest here. Zayarthiri is close to the community of the commander-in-chief’s office and it is not a far place for me. If I represent here, I believe I can work better for the benefit of constituents.
Do you expect to win in this military stronghold, given that you were formerly a top military commander?
We must try hard to win. When we look at the constituency, we see that we have had some successes in the region, as instructed by the incumbent USDP government’s rural development and poverty reduction plan. We have fulfilled the basic infrastructure needs, such as roads and bridges, access to electricity, water, education and health care, and we have gained momentum on the back of this. If constituents elect me, I will continue working for this rural region’s development and poverty reduction. I believe we can serve more.
How many eligible voters are there in Zayarthiri, and how many of them have military ties?
The total figure is 70,077 voters [according to the UEC], and about 18,000 voters are soldiers and their families.
What did you do in terms of voter awareness campaigning for eligible voters with military ties, given that you were not allowed to canvass inside military cantonments?
We cannot canvass in the Army compound. Nobody can. But the Tatmadaw [Burma Army] has been in contact with the Union Election Commission and has provided voter awareness education by themselves. We can only send our pamphlets, on which is printed my brief biography.
What are your thoughts on this prohibition, which essentially blocks candidates’ access to more than a quarter of the total eligible voting population in your constituency?
I have all the connections with fellow soldiers and their families, since I served as the secretary of the Tatmadaw Mobilizing Committee when I was in the Tatmadaw. … So they are not unfamiliar. I think every military man—not only in this constituency, but also in other constituencies—knows me.
You said you’ve canvassed almost 150 times in this constituency. What have you found are the public’s most pressing needs here?
As I said before, poverty reduction and rural development works are gradually gaining momentum. We must continue it; we’ve laid a foundation for the accessibility of electricity and water and road transport.
Are you at all concerned about your rivals, especially from opposition [National League for Democracy] party, as both of the parties are seeking voters’ favor nationwide?
I have none. We have told our party members and their friends that holding the election peacefully and successfully, in accordance with the law, is our priority. So we stand by it. We do not have any hatred for the other side. We treat them all with compassion. Therefore I don’t have any worries.
Do you think the Tatmadaw will accept the [election] result if the opposition wins?
Regarding this, our commander-in-chief [Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing] has also said that a free and fair election will be held and [the military] will accept the result. Therefore, I don’t have any specific comment to make.
What will you do if you win in the election? And what about if you don’t?
If I win, as I said before, I will be in the cabinet and will carry out earnestly the responsibilities I am assigned. If I were to lose, I would shake hands with the winner and say congratulations. There is nothing more.