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Junta-backed USDA unlikely to contest 2010 election

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by Mizzima News

Thursday, 18 December 2008 21:02

New Delhi (Mizzima) – In contrast to what many observers expected, Burma’s military junta plans to abolish its proxy organization – Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) – opting not to transform it into a political party for the purpose of participating in the upcoming 2010 election, sources close to the military said.

Owing to a poor public perception of the organization, particularly after its role in cracking down on peaceful demonstrators during the monk-led protests last year, the head of the military junta and the main patron of the organization, Senior General Than Shwe, has decided to scratch his original plan of making use of the USDA as a political party – a source said.

“The USDA will not exist in 2009,” said a source in Naypyitaw, adding that members of the junta’s proxy will instead be incorporated into political parties with different names.

“The USDA has such a bad image…and a criminal record internationally…they will not use that name… they decided at this meeting,” he added, referring to the last quarterly meeting held in November.

Echoing a similar view, Burma affairs specialist Larry Jagan, a freelance journalist based in Bangkok, said the USDA is unlikely to be transformed into any political party to contest the upcoming 2010 elections.

“According to my sources, the USDA itself will not become a political party,” said Jagan. But he added that at least three parties are likely to be formed under an umbrella of the discredited USDA and will make use of the former organization’s funding.

However, Jagan added, “But there is a lot of speculation and none of us know for sure.”

The original social organization, with several million members as claimed by the military government, has been a principle tool in attacking protesters and dissidents over recent years.

Further, the organization has established relationships with China and Vietnam through exchanging official visits.

The USDA was initiated on November 15, 1993, by the military regime. According to an official announcement in 2007, the USDA had 24 million members, mostly government servants. However, many of its members admit they enrolled in the organization in fear of any repercussions associated with denying orders from superiors.

An observer in Burma’s former capital, who closely monitors the situation, said, “There is no news about the USDA in state owned newspapers and no USDA uniforms are seen in Yangon [Rangoon].”

The source in Naypyitaw explained that the regime is keen on forming regional political parties rather than a single, nationwide political party.

“All they [junta] want is the National League for Democracy and The Lady [Aung San Suu Kyi] out,” the source emphasized.

According to Jagan, despite the junta’s claim that it will conduct the 2010 general election freely and fairly, it is unlikely that the junta will allow detained Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to contest the poll, as they see her as a major threat to their determination to win the election. However, it is possible that her party, the NLD, without her, might be allowed to take part.

“But it does not necessarily mean that it [the election] would be free and fair, and that they [NLD] would be able to run unhindered,” Jagan further elaborated.

The NLD, meanwhile, said they have not decided on whether to participate in the 2010 election and are still in the process of discussing the situation and brainstorming ideas, after which they intend to deliver a clear statement on whether they will join the proceedings or remain on the sidelines.

Meanwhile, some respected intellectual civilians, some of whom have been accused of being apologists for the junta by the mainstream opposition, are preparing to take part in the election. And the regime itself is looking for locally respected dignitaries, such as retired teachers, to partake in the election, sources said.

Similarly, a source in the military establishment said at least nine ministers and two mayors, including Rangoon Mayor Brigadier General Aung Thein Lin, will soon resign from their current positions in preparation to contest in the general election, the military junta’s fifth step of its roadmap to democracy.

Meanwhile, a report on Wednesday by Khitpyaing, a Burmese news agency based in Bangkok, reported that three army commanders have been promoted to the level of minister, but were not assigned to any ministry.

The report argues that the promotion of the Mandalay-based commander of central command, Major General Tin Ngwe, the Bassein-based commander of southwestern command, Major General Kyaw Swe, and the Monywa-based commander of northwestern command, Major General Myint Soe, could be a move to sideline them from assuming active roles in the military before the election.

While the promotion is unprecedented, it could also be a trial by the junta to use military commanders in an administrative capacity, the report suggests.

Meanwhile, a senior official in Naypyitaw told Mizzima that the electoral law, which the military is carefully designing so as to avoid it being used as a stepping stone by the opposition, is expected to be made public by the end of December or in early January 2009.

“We have to wait and see the electoral law but what I can tell you is that they will not repeat the 1990 scenario,” said a senior officer in Naypyitaw.

According to Jagan, the election law would impose restrictions on the NLD and other political parties from freely campaigning.

In 1990, the National Unity Party, a transformed party of former military strongman Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Party, lost decisively to the NLD, which analysts see as an unacceptable result for Burma’s new generation generals.

Writing by Mungpi

Administrator Note: This post is especially for those inside Burma, who cannot visit Mizzima website.

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

December 18, 2008 at 6:10 pm

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