RANGOON — The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) splashed out on a raucous rally in western Burma’s Arakan State on Monday, with just days left to spend campaign cash before a Nov. 8 general election.
Locals in Kyaukphyu told The Irrawaddy that the rally’s estimated thousands of attendees were given cash-in-hand to party with parliamentary hopefuls, which entailed musical performances complete with scantily clad models.
A USDP candidate for the state parliament, Thaung Win, said some 7,000 people were invited from more than 30 villages, but denied that they were offered money to attend. The candidate explained that villagers were provided with transportation and a small stipend for their lunch.
“We can’t cook for them, so we provided cash, accommodation and vehicles,” Thaung Win said. “We only paid them 1,000 kyat [US$0.78] for lunch.”
Some participants claimed, however, that party members were given between 3,000 and 5,000 kyat, while unaffiliated observers received 1,000. Locals estimated that about 2,000 people showed up for Monday’s event.
Administrators in Malakyun, Kalabar and Gone Chwin all said that roughly 50 to 60 people from each village accepted the transport and lunch fee to attend the rally, commensurate with the overall attendance estimate if 30 villages had in fact been invited.
Despite the draw of a free ride and a crisp banknote, some villagers took issue with what they saw when they arrived at the Kyaukphyu golf course, where the event was held. Photos of nearly half a dozen models in provocative attire quickly went viral on social media sites, arousing equal parts interest and condemnation.
One resident, Tun Tun Naing, remarked that “the USDP’s dignity dives into a dirty ditch,” while another, Zaw Myo, was left utterly confounded.
“I don’t know how to describe that campaign,” he said, seemingly at a loss for words.
The ostentatious event came as the USDP faces numerous allegations of vote-buying throughout the nation, though no official complaints have been made against the party in Arakan State, where it faces fierce competition from the popular Arakan National Party (ANP).
A total of 17 parties and 362 candidates will compete for Arakan’s 64 state and Union constituencies in the Nov. 8 poll.