USDP Comes Knocking in Voter Outreach Push

By Htet Naing Zaw 12 January 2015

RANGOON — The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has launched a door-to-door voter outreach campaign ahead of Burma’s 2015 national elections, according to party officials, amid lingering uncertainty over the scope of partisan initiatives permitted by the Union Election Commission.

Party officials acknowledged this week that the campaign was a preemptive effort aimed at countering a widely held view that the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party will pose a formidable challenge to the USDP’s ability to hold power in elections slated for late this year. The voter outreach is in recognition of the fact that the party is unlikely to win a landslide victory as it did in 2010, when the NLD boycotted the widely discredited polls.

“The USDP is campaigning door to door. It is targeting to rally the support of three groups—workers, farmers and youths,” Hla Swe, a USDP Central Committee member, told The Irrawaddy, adding that the party was also conducting a survey on voters’ needs.

The USDP door-to-door outreach would appear to fall within a gray area of campaign rules laid out by Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC), one restriction being a limitation that some have interpreted to be a blanket ban on campaigning more than 60 days prior to Election Day. At a Dec. 15 meeting between political parties and UEC chairman Tin Aye, however, the elections chief reportedly told attendees that pre-campaigning to gain general party support was not prohibited, and that the 60-day by-law only applied to campaigning by individual candidates.

Last week, both the USDP and NLD were accused by some of Burma’s smaller parties of skirting campaign rules, which both parties have denied. Neither party has yet decided on the candidates it will field in the election, expected in late October or early November 2015.

The USDP is carrying out its door-to-door campaign mainly in rural villages.

“The USDP has come to four or five villages in our region and asked which party we voted for in 2010 [election] and which party we will vote for in 2015. They also asked if we need electricity or water for regional development,” said Zigon village resident Tin Lwin in Thaegon Township, Pegu Division.

U Shwe, whose Thaebyahla village-tract in Thaegon Township was visited, said it had been years since the ruling party had stopped by, with the long-absent USDP showing up recently offering to repair roads and disburse loans.

“They are campaigning saying they will lend 50,000 kyats [US$50] to each family. They ask those who want to borrow money to sign. Many people will take it if they offer it as people here are poor,” said U Shwe.

“They said they would take our photos to give us USDP membership cards. They said it is more convenient to travel and stay overnight at others’ houses with the card,” he added.

Shwe Mann, the ruling party chairman, has been meeting recently with farmers in Burma, where incentives were reportedly offered to those attending the USDP-organized rallies.

When Shwe Mann met locals in Dawei, Tenasserim Division, on Jan. 2, enticements were offered to attend the meeting, according to Yi Yi Htway from the Dawei Farmers Union.

“They provided ferry, meals, saying that farmers who attend the rally would get agricultural loans and other inputs,” said Yi Yi Htway.

The USDP is set to hold a behind-closed-doors Central Committee meeting in Naypyidaw from Jan. 15-17, with its list of candidates expected to be announced sometime thereafter.