Election 2020

Members of Dissolved UDP Back Myanmar Military’s Proxy Party

By Nyein Nyein 23 October 2020

A number of former senior members of the dissolved United Democratic Party (UDP)’s Myawaddy chapter in Karen State have joined the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, giving the former ruling party a boost ahead of November’s election.

Many former leaders of the UDP’s chapter in Myawaddy have joined the USDP, and more than 30,000 of the UDP’s former members in the township have shown a willingness to follow suit, according to U Naing Myint Aung, who was a UDP candidate for a constituency in Myawaddy before the party was abolished.

On Oct. 17, the Union Election Commission (UEC) ordered the dissolution of the UDP, known locally as the “Rose Party” for its logo, after determining it had received funding from illegal sources in a breach of the Political Party Registration Law. The UDP’s leader Michael Kyaw Myint was found to have financially supported the party with money illegally transferred from China, a
violation of Article 6(f) of the law.

Former UDP member U Naing Myint Aung said he and a few other ex- members joined the USDP this week and are helping to recruit other ex-UDP followers by helping them fill out the required paperwork. U Naing Myint Aung said he also expected many members of the local relief group he heads to follow him into the ranks of the USDP.

“I joined the USDP together with [the leader of the Myawaddy UDP], former Captain Soe Ra [another disqualified UDP candidate]. I will vote for the USDP candidates because the USDP welcomes us and treats us with respect, while many others are insulting us,” he said.

“If our party had not been disbanded, there would have been no chance of our joining hands with the USDP,” he added.

USDP spokesman U Nanda Hla Myint said the party welcomes members of the dissolved UDP who contact their respective USDP township leaders to join.

“Many [members of the dissolved UDP] from a number of townships have joined but we don’t know exactly how many yet. Also many others are showing support for us. We welcome them because they are also our citizens, and there is no reason to reject their support,” he told The Irrawaddy on Friday. But he said the party’s central leadership does not have any policy on whether or not to collaborate with them.

The UDP also contested the 2010 and 2015 general elections, but did not win a seat. Claiming to have tens of thousands of members across the country, it fielded 1,129 candidates before the UEC dissolved the party last week. It was the second-largest political party to contest nationwide, after the ruling National League for Democracy. Myanmar has a total of 1,119 seats for The Union and sub-national parliaments, excluding areas where voting has been canceled.

The now defunct United Democratic Party’s supporters marched on their motorbikes and vehicles on Oct. 7, 2020 in Naypyitaw, ten days before the party dissolution. / Thiha Lwin / The Irrawaddy

Mandalay resident U Myo Myo Aung, who served as a member of the UDP’s central committee, said, “The majority of [members of the dissolved UDP] are now going to support the USDP.” He added, however, that the now defunct party’s top leadership had not advised its ex-members to join the USDP.

“Even though our party is now dissolved, we do not believe that it will disappear,” said U Myo Myo Aung, who lost his status as a candidate for a Mandalay regional parliament seat due to the dissolution.

U Ye Tun, a political analyst who is a former Lower House parliamentarian from Shan State, said the members of the dissolved UPD would surely “support the USDP over the ruling NLD,” as the UEC had deprived its candidates of the right to participate in the election as representatives, aside from dissolving the party.

The government last month detained UDP chairman Michael Kyaw Myint as a fugitive from justice over a prison escape in the 1990s. It launched an investigation into the party’s funding following media reports about his shady background.

Michael Kyaw Myint has allegedly spent 13.89 billion kyats (US$10.72 million) on the party so far, including providing 300,000 kyats ($232) to each of the 716 UDP candidates for November’s election. Upon its dissolution, his party’s assets were also handed over to the government in accordance with Article 19 of the Political Parties Registration Law.

Many former UDP candidates and members have denied receiving financial support from the party. They are planning to submit a complaint to the UEC over the revocation of their right to be elected, according to Daw Thida Zin, a joint secretary of the dissolved party.

She, too, said the UDP’s central committee had neither ordered nor suggested that party members join the USDP or any other party.

“It is their decision whether to join the USDP. They can change if they want to. We have no rules or guidance on that,” she said.

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