Opposition Accuses USDP of Using Civil Servants for Political Gain

By Salai Thant Zin 22 December 2014

PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Division — Two political parties plan to file a complaint against the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) for violating terms of civil service during a recent rally in Irrawaddy Division.

The Farmer’s Party and the National League for Democracy (NLD) claimed that the USDP violated rules of civil service by enlisting department employees to operate informative booths at a farming and agricultural development conference hosted by the party on Dec. 15, 2014.

Burma’s civil service personnel are not allowed to participate in party politics, as stated in Article 26(a) of the 2008 Constitution.

“The ruling party,” said Myo Nyunt, chairperson of the NLD’s Irrawaddy Division chapter, “should not use [government] departments in rallying support for itself, misusing their administrative power.”

San Lay, representing the Farmers’ Party in Irrawaddy Division, said that the USDP “blatantly violated the law when they asked departmental personnel to run booths in their meeting,” adding that the meeting “looked more like one organized by the government rather than by a party.”

Several reports estimated more than 5,000 agricultural workers in Irrawaddy Division gathered at sporting grounds in Pathein where Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann joined the division’s Chief Minister Thein Aung for the two-and-a-half hour event.

Some civil servants told The Irrawaddy that Thein Aung had asked them to operate the booths, which showcased the work of government departments including agriculture, rural development and fisheries.

Aung Tin Myint, secretary of the divisional chapter of the USDP, said that the party only assisted department personnel, but did not request their participation.

Opposition party members argued that the conference, which was organized by the USDP and attended by some of its most prominent members, was held to shore up support in advance of elections. They further claimed that the presence of civil servants had the effect of making what was ostensibly a political campaign appear to be a nonpartisan government program. New election rules limit campaign periods to 60 days leading up to a vote.

The conference primarily focused on the USDP’s agricultural policies, during which the Speaker—who is widely considered a fron-trunner for the presidency if the USDP wins a majority of Parliament in elections slated for late 2015—urged farmers to have patience and “cooperate” in order to see future benefits.

President Thein Sein signed the Farmers’ Interests Promotion Law in late 2014, legislation that was proposed by the USDP in 2013 amid criticism by farmers’ rights activists and economists. Shwe Mann spoke at length about the legislation, emphasizing that “the law is not enough,” and that both “party-member farmers” and non-USDP “partner farmers” need to work together to implement it.

The law contains measures to increase agricultural loans, extend grace periods and compensate farmers for damaged yields, the Speaker explained, adding that changes should be noticeable before the next harvest.

Chief Minister Thein Aung told the crowd that the party’s policies have laid foundations for a stronger agricultural sector and that progress will be in “full swing” after 2015.

“The past few years have been a transitional period during which the government built up the country,” the minister said. “We’ll work hard during our remaining term to make sure you receive fruitful results. This work will be in full swing after 2015, 2016, therefore farmers need to give due consideration.”

Several USDP lawmakers and high-profile party members attended the permitted assembly, including the party’s vice chairmen Htay Oo and Aye Myint. Similar events have been planned for other parts of the country, including one slated for Bago Division in the near future.

The NLD and the Farmers’ Party contended that due to the apparent partisan nature of the event, the presence of government employees was inappropriate. Both parties reported the case their respective central committees and, pending their approval, will file an official complaint with the Union Elections Commission, their representatives said.