RANGOON — Burma’s two biggest political parties have crossed swords in Mandalay’s Yamethin Township, where each side has accused the other of illegally using religion to further their election campaigns.
Losing candidates from the National League for Democracy (NLD) filed complaints against Kyaw Myint, the divisional Minister for Electric Power and Industry, and former Burma Army Major Ko Ko Naing on Nov. 22.
Kyaw Myint was elected to the Mandalay Parliament for the Yamethin No. 2 constituency, while Ko Ko Naing won the township’s Lower House seat. Tun Tun Win, the NLD’s unsuccessful Lower House candidate, said the pair had clearly violated election law by invoking religion on the campaign trail.
“They visited monasteries, talked about the race and religion laws during their campaigns and told voters not to vote for the NLD because of their religion,” he said. “We have evidence, including video footage of their campaigns.”
The pair had allegedly made reference to the enactment earlier this year of the four so-called “race and religion” laws, which ushered in new restrictions on interfaith marriage, birth spacing, religious conversion and polygamy. The four laws are widely considered to be directed against Burma’s Muslim minority.
A number of prominent Buddhist leaders with ties to the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, also known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha, held public rallies during the election campaign to praise the Union Parliament and President Thein Sein for enacting the laws, warning that a future NLD government might seek their repeal.
NLD candidate Aung Myo Oo, who lost his divisional contest to Kyaw Myint, told The Irrawaddy that the USDP candidates had filed counterclaims the following day, accusing the NLD of their own improper use of religion on the campaign trail. He said the complaint against him stemmed from excerpts of a speech by Sitagu Sayadaw, one of Burma’s most prominent Buddhist monks, lending support to NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which were printed on his campaign flyers.
Aung Myo Oo claimed that Kyaw Myint had attempted to intimidate witnesses listed on the NLD’s complaint in an effort to have the matter withdrawn.
“We sent the letters to the president and parliament to ask for his dismissal because of his abuse of power,” Aung Myo Oo said.
The Election Law states that the improper use of religion for political advantage during an election campaign carries a fine of up to 100,000 kyats (US$77), a one-year prison term, or both.
Tun Tun Win said that the complaint filed against him was baseless.
“I don’t care about their complaints because we didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “Their complaint was also past the [Union Election Commission] deadline and should be rejected.”
He added that the pair also plans to dispute the election results in Yamethin before the election commission’s deadline on Dec. 23.