MANDALAY — Local authorities in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina have rejected a request by the National League for Democracy (NLD) to hold a campaign rally featuring popular party chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi at the town’s well-known Manaw festival grounds.
According to an NLD organizing committee, the order—barring pre-election gatherings at the grounds that have a “political purpose”—came from the Kachin State government.
“The order, signed by a representative of the state government, was distributed recently to every political party, saying we cannot use the grounds for public gatherings that are of a political purpose,” said U Cho, who is part of the organizing committee.
“The Manaw Committee and the grounds’ caretaker already gave permission for us to hold the public meeting, but it is the local authorities who do not want Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to give a speech at the grounds,” he said, referring to the local committee responsible for organizing the annual Manaw Kachin cultural festival held on the grounds.
U Cho said the NLD organizing committee’s members are in negotiations with the local election subcommission, which has asked the party to submit a letter requesting permission to hold the event to the poll body. The NLD is insisting it be allowed to hold the event on the grounds because it is the largest open space in the city and may be the only suitable venue for a party whose leader has drawn thousands of supporters during recent campaign stops elsewhere in Burma.
U Cho struck a defiant tone in the face of state authorities’ resistance.
“We believe the election commission will allow us to hold the public meeting at the Manaw grounds. No matter how the local authorities try to stop us, we will hold the rally for sure,” he said.
Suu Kyi is due to visit Kachin State from Oct. 2-5. While in Burma’s northernmost state, the Nobel laureate and sitting parliamentarian will make campaign stops in Myitkyina, Waignmaw, Namti, Mogaung, Mohnyin, Nawngmun and Bhamo townships.
The Manaw prohibition is just the latest obstacle Burma’s largest opposition party has faced in a campaign season just shy of three weeks old.
Last week, the leader of the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDAK), a pro-government militia that controls territory in Kachin State along the Sino-Burmese border, issued a letter ordering the NLD not to campaign in up to 13 races across four townships. The region in question includes a race being contested by the NDAK commander Zakhung Ting Ying, who is running for re-election in Upper House constituency No. 5 as an independent.
Less disruptive was local authorities’ decision over the weekend to deny an NLD request for Suu Kyi to hold a rally at the sporting grounds of the town of Homalin in upper Sagaing Division. The party adjusted its plans and instead held the campaign event at an open field near a pagoda. Suu Kyi’s two-stop tour of Sagaing Division over the weekend took in Kani and Homalin townships.
A visit to Loikaw, the capital of Karenni State, earlier this month was not without its own hassle, this time for the owner of the guesthouse that Suu Kyi stayed at during her trip. The owner told Radio Free Asia that local authorities had reprimanded her for failing to notify them of the NLD chairwoman’s lodging arrangement, and demanded that she sign a form pledging not to commit the offense in future.
The official campaign period for Burma’s Nov. 8 general election began on Sept. 8 and will conclude Nov. 6. Nationwide, the NLD will square off against the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and dozens of ethnic political parties, including several in Kachin State.