Myanmar opposition concerned over proposed campaign rules
|Publisher||Radio Free Asia|
|Publication Date||15 May 2014|
|Cite as||Radio Free Asia, Myanmar opposition concerned over proposed campaign rules, 15 May 2014, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5391ba0f14.html [accessed 21 February 2018]|
Election Commission Chairman Tin Aye addresses leaders of various political parties at a meeting in Yangon, Oct. 11, 2013. AFP
Leaders from opposition political parties in Myanmar expressed frustration Thursday with a proposal from the country's electoral body to curtail campaign practices ahead of national polls next year.
Tin Aye, chairman of Myanmar's Union Election Commission (EC), which oversees the country's polls, said Thursday that the commission plans to limit campaigning to about a month before the election.
It also wants party members to seek permission from the local branches of the EC before holding a campaign rally in public areas or speaking to the media.
According to the proposal, party members would be required to present the EC with the exact location, time, and attendance numbers in advance of any rally, while anyone who seeks to participate in a political campaign must first register and gain approval from the commission.
Before meeting with political parties in Yangon on Thursday, Tin Aye said that the EC would explain the proposed rules and accept input from the more than 100 party representatives in attendance.
"We will try to amend the campaign rights law through discussion with the political parties," Tin Aye said.
"The people's awareness of the election [process] is weak. There is nothing that we should change in the law except what will educate the people in terms of election awareness."
Tin Aye said that the country would hold a series of by-elections sometime between late November and early December to fill vacant seats in parliament.
Myanmar's national elections, slated for late 2015, are the first since President Thein Sein's quasi-civilian administration took power from the former junta regime following polls in 2010 that were widely seen as unfair.
Only 75 percent of seats in the parliament will be up for grabs, as the constitution guarantees that the remaining quarter be held by members of the military.
Speaking on the sidelines of Thursday's meeting, Htay Oo, chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which the opposition has accused of heavily influencing the EC, said his party has no objections to the proposed campaign rules.
"We generally agree with the draft law for campaign rights," he told RFA's Myanmar Service.
"People from political parties have given their suggestions and the commission will write the law."
Opposition party representatives, however, were less enthusiastic with the draft law.
Khin Maung Swe, chairman of the National Democratic Force (NDF), said several parties had grievances about how the proposals would curtail campaigning rights, including through limiting the campaigning period.
"People asked to amend this point. They also asked to change the time limit for the campaign period from 30 days to 60, and the commission chief has agreed to study it."
Khin Maung Swe said that party representatives would meet again with the EC in three months to discuss additional campaign regulations.
Other party members described the proposed rules as "undemocratic," according to a report by the Irrawaddy online journal.
Nan Htwe Hmone of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) said parties shouldn't have to seek permission from the EC to campaign.
"I think this is undemocratic. It would be more suitable if we would be required to inform the EC rather than seek its permission. This would be more free and fair," he told the Irrawaddy.
"The guidelines set too many limitations. We want them changed," the report quoted Dixon Tun Lin, central executive committee member of the Karen People's Party, as saying.
"We want to inform rather than [be required to] seek permission from the EC," he said.
The Irrawaddy also quoted Nai San Naing from the Mon National Party as raising questions over the independence of the EC and suggesting that the rules were set up in favor of the USDP.
"The Election Commission is like a judge. When the judge is biased, free and fair elections will not happen," he said.
Last month, Tin Aye, a former military general, was extensively quoted in news reports as telling election officials and political parties that candidates will only be allowed to campaign within constituencies they are contesting in for the 2015 elections.
Following the reports, Tin Aye came under criticism from Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) and other opposition parties as well as human rights groups which feel that the authorities are moving to clip the wings of the NLD, which many believe will sweep the 2015 elections.
After writing to the EC and asking it to clarify Tin Aye's reported remarks, NLD spokesman Nyan Win told RFA last week the commission did not plan to make such a change.
In by-elections in 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi campaigned in her own constituency and traveled across the country to support other NLD candidates, helping the party bag 43 of the 44 seats it contested, and handing the USDP a humiliating defeat, only two years after it had swept national polls.
The 2012 by-elections put her into parliament for the first time after she had spent nearly two decades under house arrest. The polls were acclaimed by rights groups as Myanmar's first exercise in democracy following decades of military rule.
Aung San Suu Kyi hopes to make a bid to become president in the 2015 elections, but a clause in the constitution currently bars her from doing so because her sons are foreign citizens.
Government leaders have been dragging their feet on efforts to amend the charter.
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo, Nay Myo Htun and Khin Khin Ei for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.