Burma

Free Health Care or Political Meddling?

By Htet Naing Zaw 5 June 2019

NAYPYITAW—The free provision of healthcare services by a Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, mobile medical team and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) recently in Thazi Township, Mandalay Region, has drawn criticism from some analysts.

On May 23, the USDP reported on its Facebook page that it and the Tatmadaw had arranged free medical services for common health problems at a monastery in Thazi Township.

The Tatmadaw, being a civil service institution operating with public funds, should consider the risk of being politically exploited, some political analysts suggest. Meanwhile, the USDP—often labeled as a military proxy—should also work to step out of the military’s shadow.

The Tatmdaw, if it has a genuine interest in helping the people, should also cooperate with other political parties, said former Lower House lawmaker U Ye Tun, adding that collaborating solely with the USDP creates controversies.

“If the Tatmadaw alone went there, things would be different. It is usual for the Tatmadaw [to provide mobile medical services]. It is common for it to provide assistance in cases of natural disasters. But it should be careful who it partners with,” he said. “It will not be good for it if people think that it is being used by a political party.”

“Frankly speaking, people want it to stay clear of politics. If it stays clear of politics and performs its duties responsibly, people will love it and support it,” he said.

Section 26 (a) of the 2008 Constitution says civil servants must stay clear of party politics. The Tatmadaw’s cooperation with the USDP amounts to electioneering for the party, and the National League for Democracy (NLD) should test if the Tatmadaw wants to cooperate with other parties, said U Ye Tun.

“If they (the Tatmadaw) refuse, it is done. The media should find out if the Tatmadaw would collaborate if other parties requested to,” he said.

The NLD and the Tatmadaw have not collaborated on any task as of yet, according to NLD spokesperson U Myo Nyunt.

“If their actions converge out of the same objectives, it is fine. But if they carry out a particular task together, I would say the cooperation between a political party and the Tatmadaw would not be appropriate,” he said.

The latest cooperation between the two only further strengthens the public impression that the Tatmadaw and the USDP are birds of a feather, said Yangon-based political columnist Zarni Soe Htut.

“This impacts the image of the USDP and reinforces the public perception that the party is a military proxy,” he said. “Yes, it was in the past. But as the party is building a new image as a civilian party, [their cooperation will make the people think that] the USDP is still the military and nothing has really changed.”

The USDP grew out of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, which was founded by the military as a mass organization to rally public support for them in 2003 under the name the State Peace and Development Council. The association later became a political party and won control of the government in the disputed 2010 general election, which the NLD had boycotted. The party lost to the NLD in 2015.

Tatmadaw spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun said the Tatmadaw’s mobile medical team had already planned to visit the area, and it just happened to coincide with the USDP’s request to partner.

Though the Tatmadaw has not cooperated with other political parties, it has been providing assistance to civil society organizations by request.

“We just fulfilled their request because it is a public welfare service and not a [political] campaign,” he said.

He said the Tatmadaw provided assistance not to the USDP but to the people who need it.

Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said mobile medical services can be divided into two—those done by the military mobile medical teams that travel across the country, and those done by local battalions in their specific areas.

“We can’t cooperate if the other side’s activities are part of a political campaign. We have yet to ask the details about the issue. We don’t know details about it, and neither does the commander-in-chief of defense services,” he said.

USDP spokesperson U Nandar Hla Myint said a party lawmaker in Thazi Township was just assisting the military mobile medical teams with their tasks, and to support the local people receiving medical treatment there.

“He went there as a representative of the people, not the representative of the USDP,” U Nandar Hla Myint said. “If a lawmaker there is from the NLD and not the USDP, he would also be there to meet the local people. But then, we are unfairly criticized as usual,” he said.

Thazi Township lawmaker and Mandalay Region USDP party member U San Tun was quoted by the party’s Facebook page on May 23 as saying the USDP and the military will cooperate again to provide medical services in the uplands of the region.

“Because the weather is bad [for farming] and business is not good, the people [of Thazi Township] face financial hardship, and it is costly to go and seek medical treatment in Meiktila or Mandalay, so I spent a week of sweat and sleepless nights to organize this event for the people,” the USDP Facebook page quoted U San Tun as saying.

The NLD and the Tatmadaw have not collaborated on any task as of yet, according to NLD spokesperson U Myo Nyunt.

“If their actions converge out of the same objectives, it is fine. But if they carry out a particular task together, I would say the cooperation between a political party and the Tatmadaw would not be appropriate,” said U Myo Nyunt, the NLD spokesperson.

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