SHADAW, Karenni State — The leader of Burma’s main opposition party, Aung San Suu Kyi, took her election campaign to Karenni State’s Shadaw Township on Saturday, the small constituency which President’s Office Minister Aung Min will contest for an upper house seat in the upcoming general election.
Another government insider, Soe Thane, is running as an independent for an upper house seat in Karenni-9, which covers half of Bawlakhe Township. Both government ministers have been accused of doling out generous donations to locals ahead of the November poll.
In a possible reference to the allegations on Saturday, Suu Kyi said bribery was an “insult to the public.” She also said that only major parties, not independent candidates, could form government, “so vote for us to change the country.”
According to Boe Lway of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Aung Min donated cash, student uniforms and bags of rice to households in Karenni State’s Shadaw Township from Sept. 4-7.
“I am not sure if it is related to [election] campaigning or not, but we and the township administration also assisted them to obtain accurate household [information],” Boe Lway, a communications officer with KNPP, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday. He added that the KNPP, an ethnic armed group, was not involved in election-related activities.
It was not possible to deliver donations to some villages, Boe Lway said, so the minister’s team gave some households around 12 lakh (the equivalent of around US$1,200) instead.
The Irrawaddy spoke with several villagers who received the rice donations as well as election campaign materials such as caps, which they said were part of Aung Min’s election drive.
Speaking with villagers in Daw Lay Du, around 50 km from Shadaw, on Saturday, the National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman was told locals needed rice, farming assistance and better education opportunities for children.
The NLD’s local branch had hired laborers to build a temporary stage ahead of Suu Kyi’s campaign stop. But one NLD supporter from Shadaw said many people were afraid to be seen aiding or supporting Burma’s main opposition party in a town where government staffers make up much of the population.
“They are frightened of the army uniform,” the NLD supporter said.
The head of Sa Laung Village, Nant Thar, who attended the rally on Saturday, told The Irrawaddy that many of his friends and colleagues were still living in refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border.
“Burmese soldiers burned down our houses and many villagers ran away to Thailand. They are still trying to relocate,” he said.
Not all attendees on Saturday were aware the event was an NLD campaign rally. One elderly female attendee from Shadaw, an isolated town that lacks telephone and internet access, said she was not aware of the upcoming election.
According to one Daw Lay Du villager, the majority of locals did not speak Burmese in the impoverished area that has been wracked by past conflict between government troops and local ethnic armed groups.
Aung San Suu Kyi held similar campaign rallies in Karenni State’s Demoso on Thursday and in the capital Loikaw on Friday.
The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party swept all state and Union seats in Karenni State in the 2010 election that was widely viewed as rigged.