NLD Gags Its Candidates as Election Body Reviews Party Rosters

By San Yamin Aung 21 August 2015

RANGOON —Parliamentary hopefuls representing Burma’s main opposition party have been warned against interacting with the press while the country’s election board scrutinizes candidates, according to a party spokesman.

Nyan Win, who represents the National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the party’s 1,151 candidates were told not to give interviews to the media as the Union Election Commission (UEC) this week begins scrutinizing candidates. The gag order is an effort to limit the risk of NLD candidates saying something that might jeopardize their electoral bids, he said.

“We [the NLD central committee] ordered them not to give interviews or take part in panel discussions because we are worried that they could say something wrong or do something that violates the rules and regulations issued by the UEC before the scrutiny process is finished, which would harm their candidacy,” the spokesman said.

Issued to candidates on Thursday, the NLD directive did not specify how long the party’s parliamentary aspirants would be forced to give media the silent treatment, according to Nyan Win.

The NLD, which is chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, is one of Burma’s strongest political parties and intends to field more candidates than any of its opponents. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) was next in line with 1,134 candidate submissions, followed by the National Unity Party (NUP) at 763.

Nyan Win said the order was meant “just to stay in accordance with discipline,” and that no consequences have been outlined for candidates who act against it. A number of NLD candidates were not reachable by phone on Friday, though one told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity that prospective lawmakers were told not to speak with the press until the official campaign period begins on Sept. 8.

Burma’s general election is due to be held on Nov. 8, and the UEC has said it will wrap up its scrutiny of prospective candidates—totaling 6,189 submissions nationwide—by Aug. 27.

The NLD is expected to perform well in the forthcoming polls, which democracyadvocates hopewill be Burma’s first free and fair elections in decades. The former military dictatorship ceded power to quasi-civilian leadership in 2011, following a 2010 election broadly dismissed as fraudulent and boycotted by Suu Kyi’s party.

The NLD did take part in a by-election in 2012, however, winning 43 of the 44 seats it contested.

The party has committed to joining this year’s polls, but has come under heavy criticism over its selection of candidates. Several public figures, including prominent pro-democracy activist KoKoGyi and outspoken Rangoon parliamentarian NyoNyo Thin, saw their bids to run on the NLD ticket rejected, despite earlier being courted by the party.

The party has expelled a number of officials in Magwe Division’s Pakokku Township, and Rangoon Division’s Hlegu Township, for speaking out against the NLD’s roster of local candidates, selected by the party’s Rangoon-based central committee.

Addressing the controversy at a rally in Magwe Division on Aug. 9, Suu Kyi urged voters to cast their ballot for the party, giving no consideration to the “stature” of NLD candidates seeking to represent them.

Additional reporting by Moe Myint.