SPDC election training pressures villagers; headmen sign guarantee of pro-regime votes by residents

September 25, 2010

HURFOM, Nyaung Lay Bin Township, Pague Division: During a patrol of south eastern Nyaung Lay Bin Township, two columns of SDPC soldiers stopped in at least 4 villages, issued travel restriction orders, held a training on the election which emphasized the  USDP as the best pick of parties, and forced village headmen to sign a document confirming that they would make all villagers vote for political parties that would benefit the state.

Beginning on September 6th, two military columns from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 242 began patrols to at least 4 villages, including Mar Taw Koo, Hi Phoe Dae, Part Tala, Taw Kho, and Pa Aww Taw villages in Naung Lay Bin Township. The villages, located south of Nyaung Lay Bin town, are with in approximately 5 miles of the LIB, and often subject to frequent travel restrictions, due to the SPDC’s perceived threat of Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade No.3 operating in the area.

The two columns from LIB No. 242, comprised of 30 members each, arrived and gathered villagers to make threats of travel restrictions outside the village if security worsened, and an election presentation describing how to vote and that villagers should vote for the pro-government parties.  The commander of LIB No. 242, who operates under Military Operations Management Command (MOMC) No. 16 issued these orders.

During the presentation, the unit commander for the LIB No. 242 column insisted that villagers cast their votes on November 7th. According to villagers who attend one of the presentations, the commander did not state the name of the party to vote for, but stated that they should vote for “the party that stands for the State’s benefit”, leaving the interpretation of the phrase open to attendees.  According to one resident who has knowledge of the political situation with in the area, and the situation in Burma, highlighted that the party implied by the description of, ‘stand for the state’s benefit’ was likely that of the government supported Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).  Saw Kyi Sein, 43, who is a cultivator of tobacco, hillside rice paddy, and corn, describes the meeting, and his prediction for election day:

The name of the commander of the Burmese army was unknown.  He is tall and strapping.  He and over 30 privates assembled the headmen and the prominent persons of our village …In the meeting, the local security issue was discussed first.  If the security is very bad, a curfew will be imposed. They said bluntly that if you go outside village during [the] curfew, you will be shot dead.  Next, [they] talked about the vote.  They said that [we] have to vote only for the party that stands for the State benefits.  I think they mean [the] “USDP”.  In desolate areas like this village, the army will put in the polling-box in due course and force us to vote [by] pointing [at us] with the guns.  We can do nothing but follow as we are instructed.  Even [if they lose the vote] they will win [the election].

A retired middle school teacher, over 60, who currently lives in Nyan Lay Bin Township, Pague Division and actively participated in the 1990 election, also noted the dissolution felt around the current election process:

As it was expected, the condition do not favor to monitoring the election.  In the desolate Karen villages that you mentioned[1], the condition will be worse.  I am not even surprised [if] the soldiers forced [the villagers] to vote pointing [at them] with the guns.  The words “free” and “justice” are copied from the other countries and used in propaganda in order to get a nice sound.  Not only in the desolate villages, even in the township I live, it is possible to lie openly.  To cheat, everything has been already prepared in every step.  It is totally certain that the election held by the military government will become an unjust election.

An anonymous resident of the area, 30, who is close to a local VPDC headman, described to HURFOM’s field reporter how later on September 16th, most of the village headmen in the township were forced by the commander of LIB No. 242m based at Htet Htu, to sign a document saying that they would guarantee all the voters in their particular villages would vote for the State backed parties:

The army forced them [8 village headmen total from Nyaung Lay Bin Township, all of whom are Karen] to sign an agreement letter that they will organize the villagers to cast their votes as they are instructed.  That happened on September 16th.  The village headmen and secretaries have to take the risk that all [villagers] will vote for them [government supported parties].

The orders issued by LIB No. 242 indicate an ongoing campaign by the regime that operates directly in opposition to its previously stated aim of holding “free and fair” elections.  Within these and possibly other villages in Nyaung Lay Bin Township, researchers indicate that most villagers’ knowledge of the larger political climate, the 2010 election, or the voting process itself, is extremely low. This is most likely attributed to the strict control local battalions have placed over the permeability of outside information, though, as threatened, frequent restrictions on travel and other security measures.

These communities also face the possible threat to their own safety and livelihood by being trapped between the two opposing forces of the SPDC and the KNLA Brigade No. 3, which still operates in parts of the area. In this case, headmen and villagers face the possibility of threats and punishment by SPDC forces if they choose to ignore the order to vote for the regime, or by the KNLA if they go ahead with the demand and do cast their votes.
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[1] HURFOM interviews are translated directly in order to preserve accuracy.  Here the retired teacher responds to the interviewer regarding the villages of Mar Taw Koo, Hi Phoe Dae, Part Tala, Taw Kho, and Pa Aww Taw villages.

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