RANGOON — Burma’s two biggest political parties have denied recent accusations that they sidestepped election rules by holding premature campaign events.
The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the main opposition party, National League for Democracy (NLD), maintained on Wednesday that public rallies focused on party platform centerpieces are within their right provided they seek permission from local authorities.
Smaller parties, however, have denounced the events as manipulative and “tricky,” claiming that larger parties are using their status and financial resource to bend the rules in the lead-up to general elections to be held in late 2015.
“They are just avoiding the law,” Saw Than Myint, deputy-chairman of the Federal Union Party (FUP), told The Irrawaddy, shortly after other minority politicians voiced concern about a recent USDP tour branded as an awareness campaign about agricultural policy.
“We [the FUP] don’t campaign under the name of another issue. We don’t trick the public. What we are seeing is that one big party gives a reason for an event but it is actually for another cause,” he said, adding that the dominant parties are evading the law “by a hair.”
Burma’s new election guidelines limit campaign periods to 60 days before polls, though Union Election Commission Chairman Tin Aye recently announced that pre-campaigning to gain general party support is not prohibited, according to attendees of a Dec. 15 meeting between the chairman and party representatives.
Director of the Elections Department Taung Hlaing told The Irrawaddy that Tin Aye informed party chairs that they are free to engage in both “short-term” and “long-term” campaign activities.
“They can campaign on behalf of their party and promote their political agenda,” said Taung Hlaing, “but in an actual election, people have to vote for candidates.”
While the meeting seemed to legitimize party rallies as long they do not promote candidates, members of the NLD said they are not yet campaigning and await official permission to do so. Recent rallies hosted by the NLD to honor the late Gen. Aung San—a national hero and father of the party’s chairwoman, Aung San Suu Kyi—and to gain support for constitutional reform have no ulterior motive, a party official said.
A USDP lawmaker offered a similar explanation for rallies held in Irrawaddy, Rangoon and Pegu divisions drumming up support for the party’s accomplishments and vision for agricultural policy.
Forthcoming general elections, set to be held in either late October or early November 2015, will be the first since Burma emerged from decades of military dictatorship in 2011. Elections held in 2010 were broadly dismissed as fraudulent and were boycotted by the NLD.