RANGOON — Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC) said it has warned the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) over its recent election campaign training in Irrawaddy Division’s Pyapon District.
Deputy Commission Chairman Hla Maung said IRI had provided campaign training on Nov. 17 exclusively to National League for Democracy (NLD) members in Pyapon District, adding that the institute had also failed to properly inform the commission of its activities.
He said both these alleged actions by IRI had violated the commission’s rules regarding foreign support for election-related activities in Burma.
“Foreign organizations need to seek prior approval of the UEC if they are to provide training to a political party,” he told The Irrawaddy, adding that, “We have notified [IRI] that [they] can only provide training to political parties collectively.”
IRI is partially-funded by the US House of Representatives, but it is aligned with the center-right views of the Republican Party. The institute implements democratization programs that include supporting political parties ahead of elections, as well as electoral reform and election monitoring.
IRI could not immediately be reached for comment about the allegations made by the election commission.
Hla Maung said the Political Parties Registration Law requires Burmese parties to notify the commission of any in-house or external training, and he claimed that the NLD had failed to properly inform the commission about the IRI training event.
He warned that the Constitution’s Article 407 (c) forbids any party from “directly and indirectly receiving and expending expend financial, material and other assistance from a foreign government, a religious association, other association or a person from a foreign country.” Article 408 states a party’s license can be revoked when it violates 407(c).
“We are not targeting the NLD. We are just acting in line with the Constitution,” he added.
Thet Tin, vice chairman of the NLD in Pyapon District, said he had not heard of the allegations made by the election commission, but he denied that the IRI training event had been arranged exclusively for the NLD.
“The training was not given in our party office, but given only on 17 Nov at the Chinese Club in Pyapon. Most of the trainees are from our party, but other parties were also invited,” he said.
Win Myint, a NLD Lower House lawmaker who represents Pathein constituency in Irrawaddy Division, said all parties, including the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, had been invited to the IRI training, but the other parties did not send any representatives.
“It is not that IRI provided training to NLD alone and in Pyapon alone. It invited all parties to the training. It was up to them whether or not to attend the training. The fact that IRI provided training does not infringe on the Political Parties Registration Law,” he said.
Win Myint, who is also a NLD Central Executive Committee member, said the training intended to help all parties better understand democratic election systems, adding that he believed that the IRI training did not amount to the NLD receiving assistance from a foreign organization.
In late 2015, Burma is scheduled to hold its first free and fair democratic elections after decades of direct military rule. The NLD of popular opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is the main challenger for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a political party filled with ex-junta members.