Unusual government financial support prompts suspicions amongst residents of effort to buy pro-government vote

June 7, 2010

Mon State: Community members reported to HURFOM that on May 29th and June 1st poor parents who have problems enrolling their children in the local school for this academic year can inform local authorities in Three Pagoda Pass (TPP) town and seek support. Additionally the Burmese authorities arranged to hold an enrollment ceremony that was led by the Township and Burmese military high-ranking officials on June 1st. 

Residents have described the action of authorities as strange because such support for residents is unusual. For some residents the support is much appreciated given the sever burden paying for education can put on a low-income house. But according to several resident expert political analysts, these activities are suspicious due to their occurrence during the 2010 pre-election period.

Ko Ngwe Aung, 42, who has two sons of school-age and one young daughter and currently lives in Quarter 3 of Three Pagodas, said as the following:

It was strange.  My family has been here (Three Pagodas town) as long as the age of my middle son (6 years).  We never encountered before the government supporting the enrollment of our children.  Even a cost for a pencil or a book was never funded.  This opportunity is once in a blue moon, so a person like me who [works] in a hand-to-mouth situation feels positive.  From 7 pm to 9 pm tonight (May 29th), I will go to the SPDC office in Quarter 3 and register for enrollment with the office clerk by giving the names of my children, their grades, ages, etc.  I know nothing about any organization and politics.  To me these things are useless.  I have to think from dawn to dusk [about] how to earn 100 to 150 baht per day and how to fulfill [our] daily needs.

“Now the net fee for enrollment costs about 500 baht.  We have to save money in advance to enroll our children at the school, commented a 29 year-old mother, Ma Mi Nge, who currently lives in Quarter 1 in Three Pagodas town. “My youngest son was ill this year, so no money was saved. We are even in debt.  Both my husband and I earn only 170 baht per day. The news that the military will support enrollment fees is a good news for our children. There have been no events like this in the past.”

These and other residents think they should not miss this never before given opportunity. Some parents have even said they are thanking the township authorities silently for providing enrollment fees for their children’s education.

However, some parents’ report that the idea of sudden free education has made them stop and think. These parents doubt the charity and believe that supporting fee enrollment without cause is a direct effort on the part of local Burmese government officials to win favor with residents and buy votes for the pro Burmese government political parties in coming election.

A 44 year old from the Mon political community, who spoke under conditions of anonymity, pointed to the free enrolment support as a manipulative attempt by the government to secure votes in the coming election:

It is clear to see.  They will fulfill the [most] urgent needs.  They want the public to think positively about them.  They want to bond with the public.  They suppose this way is currently effective.  Yes, it is really effective.  However, although the government will support enrollment fee, if you consider carefully, you will see that this is the way of using the fish oil to fry the fish itself.  A week ago they [Burmese officals] collected money from U Ni Pon and U Ye Myint, who are prominent business men of the town, for enrollment ceremony.  According to the local news, nearly one hundred thousand baht has been ready to use as a major fund for enrollment.  As I said before, the money collected from the public will be posed as  [money] from the authorities.  And then they will fawningly organize the students’ parents by providing them with enrollment fee.”

On June 1st at 8:30 AM, the commander of Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 284, Lt Colonel Myo Myint Aung, 44, and the president of Three Pagodas Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC), U Myo Kyi, led the enrollment ceremony that included 338 students at the Township Hall.  Lt Colonel Myo Myint Aung, who local residents noted as being better at organizing civilians then the previous commander, spoke at the opening ceremony, stating, “I had to stop schooling for two years when I was in grade 11 because my parents faced financial problems.  I have been struggled hard to reach the current position, of commander, without any help.  I arranged to provide enrollment fees because I have much sympathy for the children whose parents could not afford to support their education.”

Most of those residents interviewed by HURFOM commented that after political parties were allowed to register, there has been a more broad effort by local authorities to organizing the citizens into supporting local pro government parties such as the Union Solidarity and Development Association Party (USDA party), specifically by targeting the most basic needs of residents.

Besides targeting education in TPP, HURFOM has documented efforts by government forces to raise support for pro-government parties in eastern Ye.  In Lake Poke, Min Hla Aye, and 5 other adjacent villages in eastern Ye, residents have reported that members of the local Maternal and Child Welfare Association, Red Cross and governmental groups of rural health practitioners, taught Mon and Karen locals about malaria and gave out medicine soaked mosquito nets.

The rarity of this sort of support and health empowerment education has struck residents as peculiar, and has raised suspicious that the effort is also related to pre-election efforts by the government.  Residents have commented that they expect to be exhorted to vote for a particular political party in the 2010 election.

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