RANGOON — Candidates for Burma’s main opposition party are continuing to face hurdles campaigning in Arakan State, with local administrators in several townships reportedly declining to facilitate the party’s activities.
The Irrawaddy spoke with six candidates from the National League for Democracy (NLD) competing in races in northern Arakan State. Of these, candidates in Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw and Buthidaung all said that multiple village administrators had been deliberately uncooperative in what they saw as a bid to scuttle planned campaign rallies.
“I have met five village heads who were unwilling to help us [the NLD]. I complained to the [district] election sub-commission and a few days later, the sub-commission warned the village administrators,” said Phoe Tun Sein, the NLD’s chairman for Mrauk-U.
NLD candidates in Sittwe, Minbya and Rathedaung reported no such difficulties in carrying out political activities as the window for campaigning begins to close ahead of the Nov. 8 poll.
For political parties seeking to campaign, particularly in rural areas, obtaining the cooperation of village administrators is important for alerting locals to planned events, for gaining informal permission and for security.
Myint Htay, an NLD candidate running for a Lower House seat in Kyauktaw, said some village heads in the township had refused to cooperate despite him having the official permission of the local election sub-commission to campaign.
“We asked the village administrator to announce that we would hold a rally but he refused,” said Myint Htay, referring to Gaw Raw Mani village in Kyauktaw Township. “He said to make your own plans. We tried to hire [a local organizer] but he said he needed the permission of the administrator.”
His complaint was echoed by Saw Thein Htun, who is running for a local parliament seat in Buthidaung Township. The NLD candidate said a recent request to meet with the head of Doom Sein village in Buthidaung Township, Aung Thein, was refused as was a request to meet the head of Thein Taung Pyin village on Sunday.
Saw Thein Htun reported similar obstruction earlier this month, including in the Arakanese Buddhist village of Thar Si.
“If we can’t hold rallies in the villages, we will lose votes,” he said.
Saw Phyu, a 59-year-old resident of Doom Sein, said he had not heard of any NLD rallies going ahead, adding that he assumed in Buthidaung, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the Arakan National Party (ANP) would fare better than the NLD.
Phe Than of the Arakan National Party running for a Lower House seat in Myebon Township said he had also faced some resistance on the part of local administrators in his constituency, but that it was “minor.”
The chairman of the Arakan State election sub-commission, Aung Mya, said he had received “no official complaints” regarding village administrators’ alleged role in obstructing electioneering.
A total of 17 parties and 362 candidates will compete for Arakan State’s 64 state and Union constituencies in the Nov. 8 poll. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya, who primarily live in northern Arakan State, saw their temporary identification cards, along with their voting rights, nixed by Naypyidaw earlier this year.