YANGON — The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) appealed to voters’ fears of losing territory and independence on Saturday in anticipation of the Nov. 3 by-elections.
“It is time to repulse the foreign intervention against the nation’s sovereignty with true patriotic spirit,” USDP Secretary U Pike Htwe said in a speech broadcast on state-run television and radio. “We would like to request that you vote for us to ensure the perpetuation of the country.”
The secretary said the “national interest” was at the top of the party’s agenda and vowed that it would prevent any “territorial loss” or “bullying from foreign countries.”
The USDP, which is campaigning on the slogan “Time to Think,” has been highly critical of the government’s decisions to seat foreign experts on the ad hoc bodies it has formed to address the crisis in Rakhine State, claiming they could jeopardize national security.
The party staged a rally in Naypyitaw in September 2017 at which it warned that the conflict in Rakhine could lead to “territorial loss” and accused the government of failing to adequately defend the military’s operations there, which the UN and US have described as ethnic cleansing.
The USDP, the political home of many retired military generals, came to power in the widely criticized 2010 general elections but was soundly defeated by the National League for Democracy (NLD) in 2015. Some of its members have since been tarnished by embezzlement scandals related to the party’s time in power.
On Saturday, U Pike Htwe said his party promised to make sure “not to lose an inch of land.”
The USDP secretary said his party would also ensure that citizens enjoy the basic rights enshrined in the Constitution and bring the peace process it began while in power to end the country’s long-running civil war to a successful conclusion.
Human rights activist Ko Moe Thway said the USDP’s talk of “territorial loss” and the “perpetuation of sovereignty” were old hat for the party, part of its strategy to mobilize voters with scare tactics.
“It is propaganda based on nationalism, which has been revived recently,” he said.
Political analyst U Yan Myo Thein said that only by amending the undemocratic Constitution and building a democratic federal union would Myanmar achieve peace and prosperity, but that the USDP was unlikely to play a lead role in tackling either judging by its public statements to date.
Thirteen national and regional parliamentary seats are up for grabs in the upcoming by-election. A total 69 candidates from 24 political parties have registered to contest the polls in Chin, Shan, Kachin and Rakhine states and Yangon, Sagaing, Bago, Magwe and Mandalay regions. Seven of the 69 candidates are running as independents.
The USDP, now the country’s main opposition party, is contesting 10 of the seats. The NLD is contesting all 13.
“It is important to assess the qualifications of the candidates and the parties’ policies as well as their activities at present and in the past for making a better future for the nation,” U Pike Htwe said on Saturday.
“Everyone witnessed that when we were in office we put all our energy into developing the country’s politics, economy, society, peace, rule of law and perpetuation of sovereignty and that the people enjoyed democracy,” he said.
But U Yan Myo Thein said the USDP was unlikely to win over many new voters, even among those disappointed with the current government.
“There are those who are frustrated with the NLD government’s performance over past two years. But even those who are disappointed, their votes will not go to the USDP,” he said.