RANGOON — The Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) has issued a ban on campaign signage in this month’s municipal elections to avoid “damage” to the beauty of the city, angering candidates blindsided by the sudden decision.
A total of 291 candidates, including rights activists and a former political prisoner, are contesting the Dec. 27 election. Independent candidates say the edict, which was issued by the YCDC and not the local election commission, has put their campaigns at a distinct disadvantage.
“[The YCDC] should not restrict candidates in the election. This is our main opportunity to publicize our campaigns,” said Win Cho, a former inmate of Insein Prison renowned for leading demonstrations over power shortages and land rights, who was unexpectedly approved by the election committee to contest a seat at the end of the month.
Win Cho added that the decision is an affront to democratic standards.
Hla Hla Soe, director of the Karen Women’s Action Group and a candidate for one of four seats on the Divisional Municipal Committee, told The Irrawaddy that the YCDC blocked the erection of signboards on the grounds that campaign bunting would threaten the city’s beauty.
“They told me that there are over 200 candidates, and if each candidate posts signboards from their own township, the beauty of the city will be damaged,” she said. “This is why they banned us from doing it.”
However, Hla Hla Soe said that some candidates had already erected signboards, contradicting the YCDC’s decree.
“As I respect their law, I did not post any signboards for my campaign. But I found that some people put up signboards already, which violates the law,” she said, adding that she will take her complaints to the election commission.
Tin Aye, the chairman of the YCDC Election Commission, told The Irrawaddy that the order came directly from the YCDC and not the commission itself.
“Their order said that candidates are not allowed to post signboards. But the order did not come from us,” he said.
Nonetheless, Tin Aye echoed the logic of the YCDC’s decision.
“There are over 200 candidates. If each of them post their own signboards, the city will look bad,” he added.
The YCDC has promised that the election will be conducted in a free and fair manner, but the lingering doubts of some participants have not been assuaged by the prohibition on signboards. Controversial decisions to limit the franchise to one vote per household and to appoint five members of the overarching nine-person Divisional Municipal Committee have also been criticized by candidates.
“They say it will be a free and fair election, but we question this,” Hla Hla Soe said.
Candidates the YCDC election will contest a total of 115 seats, including 12 seats across four district committees and 99 seats across four township committees.