Friday, January 16, 2009

Pro-government groups preparing for election in Mon State; opposition left in the dark

By Hong Gakao, Mi Kyae Goe, and Blai Mon

(Monnews) -Pro-regime groups in Mon State are being ordered to prepare for the upcoming 2010 election, though groups that do not support the government continue to be left in the dark about election details.

Burma’s military government has yet to announce its rules governing the formation of political parties or the election itself, and a formal date has yet to be officially announced. January 4th, Burma’s Independence Day, came and went without an announcement, though experienced Burma watchers had expected the day to figure a declaration of the rules.

The deferred announcement is likely part of a strategy to ensure victory for the regime and its supporters, said a veteran Mon politician involved in the 1990 election, which was later annulled. The regime is preparing itself for the election, he said, and will announce the election rules only at the last moment. Opposition parties will be left scrambling with only a few months to organize themselves.

The National League for Democracy (NLD), Burma’s largest opposition party, has yet to officially decide whether it will participate. According to Nyan Win, quoted by Mizzima in December, the NLD is holding its decision until after the election law is announced.

Though the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) may be deferring announcement of the election law, it is not deferring its election preparations in Mon State. In Mudon Township, near to Mon State’s capital city of Moulmein, authorities have ordered regime-back civilian groups like the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), Myanmar Women’s Affairs Association and the fire brigade to step up their recruitment efforts.

The recruitment order in Mudon was issued on January 2nd in a meeting between Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) authorities and the heads of all Village Peace and Development Councils (VPDC) in the township. According to a source that attended the meeting, each village was ordered to increase the size of government-backed civilian groups by the hundreds and report the increase to local army battalions. Mudon Township’s larger villages, Kamawet, Hneepadaw and Kwan Hlar, were each ordered to add at least 1,000 new members, said the source. Mudon is home to 44 villages, and one of Mon State’s most populous townships.

A source in Rangoon confirmed a similar recruitment effort, and said that government-backed groups in her township had been instructed to find 200 new members each month. The source, who is a member of one of the groups in question, also said that in nearby South Okkalapa Township the USDA had set up a free clinic and tutoring sessions for students in the 10th standard. The services are overt recruitment efforts, as only USDA members can oblige themselves of the services.

The source did not comment on the motivation for the projects, but similar projects have been reported around Burma as both a recruitment effort and pre-election drives for positive publicity.

USDA officials appear cognizant of the infamous reputation enjoyed by their organization, which played a highly visible role in the brutal crackdown on monks and civilians during peaceful demonstrations in September 2007; on January 13th, Southeast Command Commander Major General Thet Naing Win explained as much in a meeting with top USDA officials.

The meeting, convened at the USDA office in Moulmein, featured top USDA representatives from Mon State’s 10 townships as well as representatives to the National Convention that drafted Burma’s new constitution and referendum committee members who oversaw the constitution’s approval.

According to a source present at the meeting, the general explained that the USDA would participate in the election in three ways, depending on local sentiments towards the organization. Contrary to reports by Mizzima and the Irrawaddy, the general said that the USDA might field a candidate as a political party. Consistent with reports by Mizzima and the Irrawaddy, he said that in places where the USDA is unpopular it would form new political parties or, depending on organizational strength, support another party as directed by higher USDA officials.

According to the IMNA source, the general said that a report by the Special Police had recently explained that the USDA should not involve its name in the election because of its negative reputation.

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