Govt Plan on Office Space for Political Parties Moves Forward

By San Yamin Aung 26 March 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s government has offered to lease and sell rooms in Rangoon’s Shwe Lin Pan housing project, located in the western township of Hlaing Tharyar, to more than one-third of the country’s 71 registered political parties.

A letter sent by the Union Election Commission (UEC) to the parties this week stated that the Ministry of Construction planned to sell or lease 24 rooms in the housing project to assist them in getting operations running in Burma’s biggest city, home to one of the region’s most expensive property markets.

The rooms will be sold at prices ranging from 10 million kyats (US$10,000) to 12.5 million kyats, and leased at a rate of 40,000 kyats per month, according to the letter.

Interested political parties must submit an application to the Rangoon Election Subcommission by March 31.

“It is a Union government plan. We are not selling nor renting. We just informed the parties and are accepting the applications, and we will draw lots if the demand from parties is higher than the offered rooms,” said Ko Ko, chairman of the Rangoon Election Subcommission.

He said the rest of the program would be handled by the Ministry of Construction.

“There are 24 rooms for them, six rooms on each floor in a four story building,” he said, adding that it might be possible to later expand the program to allow more parties to benefit.

Three parties have already submitted applications, according to the subcommission chairman.

“It could be some form of help for political parties since most parties are underfunded and are facing difficulties in opening party offices—except the NLD and USDP,” said National Democratic Force (NDF) chairman Khin Maung Swe, referring to Burma’s two largest parties, the National League for Democracy and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party.

“It is still not easy for us to buy a room even at the 10 million or 12.5 million [kyats] that they offered. Although the procedures on how they will allocate those 24 rooms to parties is unclear, we submitted an application to the commission,” said Ye Tun, chairman of the 88 Generation Student Youths (Union of Myanmar) Party.

“We just need to wait and see,” he added.

Nan Khin Htwe Myint, a spokesperson for the National League for Democracy (NLD), said Burma’s main opposition party would not take a room even if demand from applicants was less than the supply of offices on offer.

“They should offer enough rooms for all parties even though we will not take one. And if they wanted to do this, they could have offered before. Some of the parties were founded more than 20 years ago. Offering now is a little bit strange,” she said.

The UEC sent an initial request to President Thein Sein in May 2014, asking the government to provide land for offices and car import permits to the parties. The proposal was met with criticism from some quarters including the NLD and political analysts, who accused the election commission of trying to win over smaller parties for political gain.

Others expressed concern that the handouts would come with strings attached.

The criticism reflected the extra scrutiny that the ostensibly independent UEC is often subject to, given that its chairman Tin Aye was a senior USDP leader before leaving the party to take up the electoral body’s top job in 2011.

On Thursday, the NLD appeared to soften its stance toward the office space handout.

“It is good as long as the small parties don’t have strings attached when they buy or lease the apartments from the government,” she said.

The proposal to dole out car import licenses, meanwhile, appears to have been dropped.

“We declined when they said that they would offer the car permits to the parties because we thought it was not right for the UEC to do so. If they want to do such a thing, the government should seek the public’s opinion on that first,” said Sai Leik, joint secretary and spokesman of the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD).

The SNLD leader accused the government’s office space giveaway of standing to benefit “proxy parties” of the ruling USDP.

Additional reporting by Zue Zue.