PATHEIN — The Pathein Township office of the National League for Democracy (NLD) has downplayed reports in local media outlets that more than 300 of their members have joined the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but concedes that some former members have switched their allegiance.
A number of local Burmese language dailies have reported that 365 NLD members in Pathein resigned from the party on Sept. 12 and joined the USDP, claims which were widely circulated on Facebook.
Party officials conceded that some members from the party’s No. 10 Region office, which is based in Pathein, had defected to the ruling party. Accounts varied as to the number of resignations.
“It is totally wrong that more than 300 party members have resigned,” Kyaw Htay, a member of the NLD’s Pathein Township executive committee. “We have 462 party members in our party’s No. 10 Region office and only five of them have actually resigned. The report was fabricated from the voter list display in the area. They are not all party members, they are voters.”
Tin Nyein, the former ward office chairman, said he resigned from the NLD in September and led 67 other members to join the USDP. He said that the other 297 locals reported as defecting from the party were not official members but erstwhile NLD supporters.
“Among those who resigned from the NLD were those who already had party membership ID cards, as well as those who applied for party membership—altogether, 68 of us,” he said. “We submitted the resignations through ward administration offices before joining the USDP.”
A ceremony marking the party switch was held on Sept. 12 at the house of a local USDP member, attended by party officials and lawmakers from around the Pathein area. Dr Khin Khin Si, a divisional USDP lawmaker for Pathein’s No. 1 constituency who is recontesting her seat in the Nov. 8 poll, reportedly issued 365 party membership ID cards at the gathering.
Though there have been periodic reports of Irrawaddy Division members resigning from the NLD since the party resumed full activities after sweeping the 2012 byelections, the mass resignation in September marks the first time members have switched their allegiance to the USDP.
Following August’s flooding disaster in lower and central Burma, Khin Khin Si provided ward authorities in Pathein with rice, foodstuffs and cement to pave damaged roads in the area. The mass defection was a result of Khin Khin Si’s relief donations, according to Tin Nyein.
“[We resigned] mainly because the USDP gave us help while we were faced with the floods, and also provided cement to repair roads,” he said. “But the NLD didn’t support any social welfare initiatives and did not help us when our ward was faced with floods. So we joined the USDP because it carries out regional development.”
Kyaw Htay maintained that the defections had been exaggerated and the township NLD office was planning to take legal action against anyone found responsible for spreading false accounts of the resignations.
“We’re discussing suing those who fabricated news of the extent of resignations from the NLD, as it hurts our reputation,” he said.
Tensions have increased between NLD and USDP cadres in Irrawaddy Division as the election draws near. On the same day as the Sept. 12 resignations, a USDP member reportedly attempted to obstruct NLD campaign trucks traveling around town.