RANGOON — Candidates from the National League for Democracy (NLD) on Monday condemned what they said was clear government favoritism toward the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the election race to represent a smattering of islands in the Indian Ocean.
Four NLD candidates running in the Coco Islands constituency, a small archipelago about 140 miles southwest of the Irrawaddy Delta, have been unable to travel there for more than 30 days, even as USDP parliamentary hopefuls have made several trips to court voters since campaigning officially began on Sept. 8.
On Monday, the four men said the regional government has continued to prevent them from going to the islands, only one of which is populated and where most inhabitants are members of the Burma Navy and their families.
Win Ko Ko Win, one of the NLD candidates contesting a Coco Islands constituency, told The Irrawaddy last week that former Burma Navy commander-in-chief Adm. Thura Thet Swe and former Rangoon Division Minister for Border Affairs and Security Col. Tin Win, both recently retired from those posts to contest the election, had made trips to the island by military boat and aircraft.
“We can’t even reach there. Only after we are able to reach there, we will be able to make campaign arrangements,” he said, accusing the ex-military officers of using their previous posts to gain unfair electoral advantage.
Win Min, the NLD’s Lower House candidate in the Coco Islands race, said the party had been seeking permission from the Rangoon regional government and Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC) since the start of the official campaign period, to no avail.
A first boat trip was scheduled for mid-September but was delayed and later canceled. The candidates were also barred from two flights to the islands carried out by the military.
With the general election just 27 days away, the opposition party’s candidates sent another letter to the regional government on Monday, but this time they are seeking permission to travel to the islands on a boat they plan to hire themselves. The candidates expect a response from the regional government this week.
“Though the president and UEC chairman are saying they are conducting a free and fair election, on the Coco Islands, between the main challengers, the NLD and USDP, we can’t start our campaign to this day, while the USDP is campaigning,” Win Min said at a press conference organized by the four candidates in Rangoon on Monday.
“We want them [the government and UEC] to give equal rights to the parties if they intend to hold a free and fair election. But we see that the Rangoon regional government is preventing that,” he added.
Thein Nyunt, chairman of the New National Democracy Party, which also has a candidate running for a regional parliament seat in the Coco Islands, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the party had also been stymied to date in its attempts to travel to the islands.
“We were allowed only one seat on a flight. It is not enough for us. We need at least two people to arrange campaigning there,” he said, adding that the party would distribute campaign pamphlets and flyers containing its candidate’s brief profile to voters via an island resident in the coming week.
“We will try to be known by the people using our own means, even though they don’t allow us [to travel there],” Thein Nyunt said.
There are about 1,700 eligible voters living on the island known as Great Coco, Win Min said.
A total of five parties and one independent candidate are contesting seats that include the Coco Islands, which are considered part of Rangoon Division. Burma’s main opposition party, the NLD, won a race on the islands in the country’s 1990 election, the results of which were not recognized by the former military regime.
“We believe we will win in the election [despite the campaigning blockade] if people are able to cast their votes freely and if the votes are counted fairly,” said Kyaw Htwe, the NLD’s candidate for the Upper House constituency that includes the Coco Islands.