As Election Nears, USDP Candidate List Almost Complete

By Yen Saning 21 April 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has begun zeroing in on candidates in the lead-up to landmark elections later this year.

Central Executive Committee member Tint Zaw told The Irrawaddy that while about 80 percent of the party’s candidates have already been nominated, a complete list will likely be finalized by the end of June, after the party congress to be held in the capital city of Naypyidaw.

Almost all of the party’s incumbents, most of whom were elected during general elections held in 2010, will seek reelection, Tint Zaw said. A few who wish to retire or vacate their positions for other reasons will be replaced by new candidates.

“Our priority is the candidates who won in 2010,” he said, adding that new candidates will be put forward by state and divisional committees for approval by the party’s central authority.

The central committee will focus campaign efforts on areas that already have a strong support base for the policies and principles of the USDP, he said.

Most of the party’s candidates have been selected and approved by the committee, though the list has not been disclosed. The USDP will prioritize the inclusion of women, minorities and well-educated members to fill remaining vacancies, Tint Zaw said.

The USDP currently holds about 50 percent of parliamentary seats, and data from the Union Election Commission indicates that only about two percent of them are women. About 27 percent identify as ethnic minorities, the large majority being ethnic Burman, according to the non-governmental monitor Open Myanmar Initiative. Tint Zaw said that as the party considers its nominees, members “will try to listen to local voices.”

Some USDP members are sure to seek reelection, he said, including Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann, who is expected to seek the presidency. “We all want him to contest,” Tint Zaw said, adding that the party is still unsure whether incumbent President Thein Sein will run again.

Lower House lawmaker Aung Thaung, who made headlines last year when he was blacklisted by the United States for undermining reform and “perpetuating violence,” is expected to seek reelection, as is Upper House Speaker Khin Aung Myint.

A candidate list for 45 townships in Rangoon has already been finalized and submitted to the committee, according to the USDP’s divisional office in the former capital, but it has also not been made public.

The USDP is Burma’s biggest and most powerful political party, established in 2010 as the country began its transition from military rule to quasi-civilian leadership. The party is closely associated with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the former military regime that was dissolved in 2011.

The main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), boycotted the 2010 elections that installed the USDP in Parliament, though by-elections held in 2012 landed 43 NLD members in the legislature including party chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi.