RANGOON — Four National League for Democracy (NLD) candidates desperately seeking to campaign for seats representing the Coco Islands constituency have had their latest bid to visit the islands stymied again this week.
This time, the boat they intended to charter is to blame, with officials from the Ministry of Transport’s Department of Marine Administration telling the candidates that the wooden vessel in which they planned to set sail was not suitable for the high seas journey required to reach the islands.
The rejection this week marked the latest setback in the four men’s quest to reach the sparsely populated islands, preceded by one other unsuccessful attempt to board a boat bound for the constituency and two failed bids to score seats on flights.
On Monday, the candidates held a press conference in an effort to highlight what they said was clear-cut bias in favor of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which has managed to send its candidates to the Coco Islands multiple times since campaigning officially began on Sept. 8. The ruling party’s candidates have made trips by both air and sea, the NLD claims, in military ships and aircraft.
A small archipelago about 140 miles southwest of the Irrawaddy Delta, the Coco Islands constituency falls within Rangoon Division and is theoretically being contested by five political parties and one independent candidate.
Win Min, the NLD’s candidate in the Coco Islands’ Lower House race, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that he and his colleagues had met with the Department of Marine Administration the day prior.
“They said they would not allow it since the body of the vessel that we planned to take was made of wood and that they would only allow an iron-bodied vessel to travel,” he said.
Win Min said the candidates were told that the Ministry of Transport had a passenger boat trip to the islands scheduled for Oct. 20, and advised the parliamentary hopefuls to seek permission from the Coco Islands Township administration to join that vessel on its journey.
He said the deferral amounted to stall tactics, with less than four weeks until election day.
“Even if we can go together with them on October 20, we will only have around 15 days out of 60 campaign days,” he said, referring to the full duration of the official campaign period. “We will try our best to campaign with this handicap.”
Lacking a better option, Win Min said the NLD candidates intend to take the passenger boat on Oct. 20.
Tin Aye, chairman of the Union Election Commission (UEC), has taken note of the problems candidates are facing in accessing the Coco Islands, citing the effective blockade on Tuesday as one of several reasons that he was considering postponing the Nov. 8 vote.
The UEC later reversed course and announced that the elections would go ahead as scheduled.
Win Ko Ko Win, one of the NLD’s candidates slated to compete for a Coco Islands seat in the Rangoon Division legislature, said at the press conference on Monday that the UEC shared responsibility, along with the regional government, for arranging access to the islands.
Even in the absence of a physical presence there, Win Ko Ko Win said he liked his party’s chances.
“If the voters there can access Internet, we can win even without going there because the voters can know our real situation,” he said.
Kyaw Htwe is the NLD’s Upper House candidate for the Coco Islands, and Kyaw Thu is its second candidate for the Rangoon regional assembly.