RANGOON — An opposition candidate has filed an official complaint against Burma’s ruling party alleging violation of election law, the latest in a string of as-yet-unanswered grievances as a general election on Nov. 8 nears.
Thant Zin Tun, who seeks a seat in the Lower House of Parliament for the National League for Democracy (NLD), said he has filed a complaint with Naypyidaw’s Dekkhinathiri Township police against Zaw Weit, a central committee member of the local chapter of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
The case alleges that Zaw Weit delivered defamatory pamphlets in the township’s Htan Ta Pin village, urging citizens not to support the NLD on the grounds that the party would betray the nation’s dominant faith, Buddhism.
“The pamphlets have a heading that reads: ‘To monks and people who love their race and religion,’” Thant Zin Tun told The Irrawaddy. “They have passages that defame the NLD. For example, it says ‘if you vote for the party based only on the fact that the leader is the daughter of General Aung San, the country, race and religion will be under unimaginable harm.’”
A police officer in Dekkhinathiri confirmed that a case was opened under Section 58(c) of Burma’s Election Law, which prohibits distributing materials or making public speeches that use religion to influence the electorate. The officer said an investigation will begin within “a few days.”
Zaw Weit could not be reached for comment on the allegations as of Thursday evening.
Similar materials have been reported elsewhere amid a rising tide of Buddhist nationalism associated with a radical group known as Ma Ba Tha, which stands for Association for the Protection of Race and Religion. The group has not claimed responsibility for the materials in question, though they have been handed out at events hosted by Ma Ba Tha members.
The pamphlets in question warn the electorate that a vote for the NLD would leave Buddhism vulnerable, pointing out that the NLD opposed a controversial set of laws promulgated by Ma Ba Tha restricting interfaith marriage, birthrates, polygamy and religious conversion.
The party has also been cast as pro-Muslim, despite its rejection of Islamic candidates, which is believed to have been motivated by mounting pressure from extreme nationalists. The powerful Ma Ba Tha is outspokenly against Muslim expansion in the predominantly Buddhist country, and some of its leaders have indicated that they hope to seek further measures to restrict the Muslim population such as outlawing ritual slaughter and banning headscarves.
Since the official campaign period commenced on Sept. 8, the NLD has lodged several complaints about contentious materials and incidents involving physical intimidation of opposition candidates. None of the cases related to the print materials has yet been adjudicated by either the Union Election Commission (UEC) or the courts, though the commission has agreed to meet with the party to discuss this and other issues of conduct during the pre-election period.
The NLD requested the sit-down after three weeks of campaigning in which it claimed to have faced nearly 10 cases of actionable offenses on the campaign trail, almost none of which had yet been resolved by electoral or law enforcement authorities. No date for the meeting has yet been set.
Running against Thant Zin Tun is Myint Hlaing, the current Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, representing the military-backed USDP. The minister has courted controversy in recent weeks amid accusations of vote-buying, as well as a verbal attack on NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi.
His opponent Thant Zin Tun complained to police in early September when Myint Hlaing distributed umbrellas to residents bearing the script, “Let’s vote for U Myint Hlaing, who will really work for us. By the people, for the people, Dekkhinathiri Township.”
The police department responded that the minister had not violated election law as the incident in question occurred before the start of the official campaign season.