Friday, August 6, 2010

USDP adds low-interest loans to election campaign charms

Friday, 06 August 2010 00:48 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The junta-backed party that emerged from the Union Solidarity and Development Association has started is issuing loans to organisers in townships of the central Burmese divisions of Magway and Mandalay to add money-lending to its election campaign arsenal, party members and residents said today.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) had issued loans to party organisers in Yenangyaung Township, Magway Division, so they could lend money as a sweetener to boost membership ahead of nationwide elections scheduled for this year, party members and residents said.

The party issued 100,000 Kyats each to 14 ward-level organisers in Yenangyaung, Magway Division and 500,000 Kyats to 29 village-level, both at 2.5 per cent interest.
“More than 1.6 million Kyats have been doled out,” a township party organiser said.

The money was transferred to the party by the former Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) to become part of its campaign war chest, a division-level party official admitted.

Meanwhile, a ward-level party organiser decried the bias over how the funds were being distributed, saying the loans were being issued to village organisers as a priority by township-level organiser Aung Naing Win.

“Our party organisers in town are working really hard for the party but he issued these loans to village organisers instead, so the party organisers in town suffered,” the ward organiser said. “He gave 100,000 Kyats each to us when we protested against it. We can do nothing with this small amount of money. We must renegotiate with him.”

Though the often violent nationalist social organisation, the now-defunct USDA, has been transformed into the political party, USDA signboards were still being seen in Yenangyaung.

There are 25 townships in Magway Division and the USDP, led by junta prime minister and former general Thein Sein, has been campaigning in earnest.

USDP branches in Kyaukpadaung Township, Mandalay Division were also conducting campaigns in villages by promising loans, a resident told Mizzima.

“Since last month, they’ve been organising villagers by promising loans at an interest rate of just two per cent … Only their party is campaigning here.”

The USDA once announced that it had 24 million members with 15,421 branches across the country. But students and government employees had to resign their memberships when it became a political party.

“We are not forcibly organising people from outside our party. We are just consolidating our party by rallying our own party members. We must do our ‘party-member scrutiny’,” a USDP official from the Rangoon Division party office said.

He also denied rumours that a new social organisation would be formed by the military junta again. They “absolutely” had no such plan, he added.

The party had reportedly had a free hand nationwide in its canvassing, and had a lot of money to open health clinics and build roads and bridges to win public support, political analysts said. Furthermore, they had been offered the full support of authorities at all levels, leaving most of the other parties struggling to conduct canvassing amid limited opportunities and resources.

The USDA, often compared with Hitler’s Brown Shirts, was established in 1993, with junta leader Senior General Than Shwe as patron. It became the USDP on July 6, and its central executive committee was formed by at least 17 former military officers including the prime minister, who shed their uniforms, according to analysts, in a ruse to create the impression that should they win, Burma would have a “civilian” government.

The association was part of the junta’s “people’s war strategy” to create a “people’s militia” to protect the transition process (from military to civilian government) from “internal and external” threats. The 2008 constitution’s section 340 lays out the role of the “people’s military” under the leadership of the defence forces.

The State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc), the official name of the military regime of Burma that seized power in 1988, was the USDA’s original patron until it was abolished in 1997 to be reconstituted as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the junta’s current name for itself. The USDA received direct and indirect support from the junta at various levels and was best known for its anti-democratic rallies and activities.

One of its most notable abuses was when at least 5,000 of its members attacked National League for Democracy members’ taking part in Aung San Suu Kyi’s roadshow convoy in Depayin, in May 2003. At least 70 people associated with the NLD were killed in a well-organised attack by the government-sponsored mob.

Reports circulated at the time said the USDA had played a key role in what was described as a murder attempt against Suu Kyi.

In the September 2007 anti-junta protests across Burma, USDA members blocked roads and harassed and detained monks and civilians as they took to the streets.

Last December, around 20 USDA members attacked the Union of Myanmar National Political League members during an election-campaign talk show in Ahlat Chaung village, in Kyimyindine Township.

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