Ruling USDP commands shy support in Myanmar’s elections


A woman on a balcony in an apartment block in Thinganggyun Township, Yangon, with USDP campaign material bearing the president's image, on Nov. 3. (PHOTO:- Myanmar Now/Phyo Thiha Cho)

A woman on a balcony in an apartment block in Thinganggyun Township, Yangon, with USDP campaign material bearing the president's image, on Nov. 3. (PHOTO: Myanmar Now/Phyo Thiha Cho) 

Twenty-two-year-old Lu Zaw took a day’s leave from his office job this week to join a political rally of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, but found it hard to explain his instinctive loyalty to Myanmar’s ruling party.

His uncle is a senior party campaigner, recruiting new members for USDP in Yangon’s Thinganggyun Township.

Lu Zaw said he was taking part in the rally, not at the behest of his uncle, but by his own volition, despite the fact that political rallies were not his favourite scene.

As Myanmar prepares for historic elections on Sunday, a vote that the opposition National League for Democracy of Aung San Suu Kyi is widely expected to win, there are still many loyal to the ruling party.

Led by former general Thein Sein, the USDP’s semi-civilian government has steered the Southeast Asian nation through a series of economic and political reforms since it came to power in 2011, ending half a century of military rule.

“Even if the whole country supports NLD, I will vote for USDP,” said Lu Zaw.

USDP rallies, with supporters decked in the party’s colour green, seem to lack the zeal and spontaneity of campaign events organized by Suu Kyi’s NLD, which have attracted crowds in the tens of thousands.

Tun Aung Kyi, a Lower House candidate for the USDP in Pazundaung Township in the commercial capital Yangon, said they provided those took part in his party’s rally with breakfast, coffee and transportation costs.

In many constituencies, USDP candidates have delivered on promises of renovating roads, schools and monasteries and help for impoverished citizens since their landslide win in 2010 elections that were boycotted by the NLD and widely condemned as rigged.

They have the advantage of being the incumbent, and USDP officials say the party commands quiet support, especially in the rural areas.

In an interview with Tun Aung Kyi at the USDP office, located directly across the road from the NLD’s local office in Pazundaung Township, the 70-year-old said: “Although many people are usually seen in their (NLD) campaigns, I believe we have won genuine public support of the people.”

While the NLD campaign has been strong on rhetoric, Tun Aung Kyi said the USDP had delivered on actions - implementing important welfare programmes for the people.

Soe Min Than, who will run for the USDP in No. 2 constituency of Pazundaung Township, said their party had many supporters, but often voters were reluctant to disclose their allegiance amid the frenzied excitement surrounding the NLD’s apparent journey towards government.

“People are waiting for the members of our party even though they carry stickers (of the NLD) to avoid any quarrel,” he said, as he handed out campaign pamphlets to pedestrians. 

“Some people said they do not accept T-shirts from the candidates, but asked for the calendars with the photo of President Thein Sein,” he added.

POLITICAL PARTY CREATED FROM MASS MOVEMENT

The USDP was formed out of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, a patriotic mass movement founded with state funds under the directive of former dictator, Senior General Than Shwe, in 1993.

Hla Tun Oo, who will contest an Upper House seat in No. 4 constituency of Pazundaung Township, has been a member of the USDP for more than 20 years. He is a son of warrant officer of the Navy.

He said he was prompted to join the USDP by a quote in a speech by Than Shwe.

“I read a quote of Senior General ThanShwe in 1993 when the Union Solidarity and Development Association was formed. It said this association was formed to nurture brilliant new generations for the development of the country,” he recalled.

In Yangon, some trishaw drivers carry the green USDP flags, while their counterparts had stuck red NLD flags to their cycle taxis.

Some USDP candidates have been accused of handing out money to constituents in return for votes of attending rallies.

But Maung Kyi, a trishaw driver near Sanpya Market in Thinganggyun Township, Yangon, said: “I used USDP flag not because I received any money, but because it is my favourite party.”

When campaign rallies of the USDP were held in their area, the locals voluntarily took part in the events, said Lu Zaw.

NyeinNyein, a voter in her mid-40s, said, “Of course you have every right not to vote for USDP if you don’t like them. But at the moment, between parties and between the public, people are behaving as if they’re enemies if you like USDP but don’t like NLD. It’s divisive.”

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