Mudon Township residents react to USDP campaign tactics
October 28, 2010
In northern Mudon Township, the USDP begun a campaign of gift distribution of snacks to local residents as they pass by, and at local poling meetings, with the apparent aim of securing their votes before the November 7th election date. In addition, residents describe the USDP effort to win the backing of local business leaders. Many residents, who support other local parties, have found the overwhelming campaign unfair and offensive.
Within communities in Mudon township, USDP offices have worked with assistance from Village Peace and Development Council (VPDC) heads in the organization of USDP campaign rallies, distributed snacks and food, and targeted local businesses with the promise of economic concessions in exchange for their support. At meetings organized by the USDP and VPDC heads, several local residents have reported being afraid of the consequences of not voting, either in protest of the election, or from being unable to go and vote during the crucial harvest time that coincides with the election date. Residents are afraid their absence – whatever the cause – will be noted on the polling attendance record, which by default has the names of every household in the village. Villagers that attend are marked on the list, and given a ballot with their name and ID card number on it. Bellow are the personal accounts of residents from the area reacting to this USDP campaign activity in northern Mudon Township starting on October 10th.
The USDP has actively engaged in attempting to win the support of local residents through distributing snack and food in order bring people to the campaign polling meetings. While not overtly illegal, the USDP is the only party to extensively offer gifts in exchange for support, an act many residents have connected to the party’s inheritance of the budget of the now defunct government backed and financed, Unions Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).
Mg Htat Naing, from Kwage One village, describes the local USDP campaign in detail, and how and how residents who do not attend poling meetings are documented with the assistance of the VPDC headman:
Since Oct.10.2010, the USDP has started, with numerous people, holding polling meetings in southern Mudon Township, where Mon people live. With the help of headmen from respective regions, the USDP is organizing for [getting] advance vote [garuntees]. In addition, on October 13th, the USDP was organizing residents from four villages: Kwage One village, Kaw Khait village, Thar Pa Thon village, and Thar Yar Kon village, which are in southern Mudon township, to vote for it [USDP] after giving out fresh snack packages to them [residents]. In that polling meeting, the USDP announced that its party could complete a project [of putting] every region or village and ward must on the pathway to progress and development – [they say] unlike other political parties which ignore [this sort of] project, it would work hard to get that project to succeed, so vote for their party…They say that is their party is the Mudon USDP party led by Pyu Htu Hlaw Htaw candidate U Mya Thein, and carry snacks, cold drinks or other kinds of drinks, and noodle packages with their truck; the members of the Mudon-USDP party give [these items] out to every Kwage One villager whom they meet on the way they are heading. Especially, they give them out to the children. With the support of the village secretary, the meeting is arranged and every one from each household is invited to attend. In the document list of meeting attendance, they list not only the number of people who attend the meeting but also the number of people who does not show up. (Interview conducted on 13 October 2010)
Ko Aye, a Kwage One villager, who graduated from the Government Technology College (GTC), voiced his frustration with USDP campaign claims of community development:
In my views, it seems to be childish since they said that ‘Our party is good, but other parties are not’. The USDP does not seem to be aware that the audiences who are at the meeting listening to them are not either children or the people who are foolish and always say “Yes”. “Because of the USDP, the old or damaged roads are repaired or re-constructed as new ones, and there will be more schools built” – They said they will re-construct new roads and build more schools, but where does the money to build and re-construct come from? Is not that the money is from us? And we by ourselves repaired or built the schools and set up the schools’ signboards’ with our names? But the USDP comes and says that those are the schools built by it and the signboards named after it, and praise that those all are repaired or built by it – though it is obvious that the schools are repaired and built by us, the people. So, now the roads are the ones re-constructed and the schools are the ones built by the USDP; indeed, that is not true. As it will win the election with a landslide victory [regardless], it does not need to say or be proud like that, so here, why does it set up signboards and announce [itself] as donors of building schools and repairing the roads [when it has not]? For me, I do not want to go to the poll, but if they list my name and come to house, I will vote – though I vote without my beliefs. (Interview conducted on 14 October 2010)
Mi Khin San Htay (not a real name), an Economic graduate, who attended a USDP polling meeting describes the rhetoric a USDP candidate used, and the reactions from local community members:
In southern Mudon Township, in the Tha Kon Thaing village, on October 10th, the Mudon-based USDP members – 13 members together with the village headmen and regional militia leaders – they called one person from every household for a meeting. At the meeting, they talked about how to vote for them, and they also said that the meeting was organized not for the people who work for the All Mon Region Democracy Party but for them [USDP]. Since they said like that, people were not happy or satisfied. At the meeting a 45 year old USDP candidate, said that ‘what can AMRDP do for you? It can do nothing.’ He asked by himself and answered his question by himself. ‘These people [members of AMRDP] come and work after seeing what USDP has done for village and ward development and social welfare. Currently, it is obvious that you all can not afford to repair the roads and repair or re-build the school by your selves. So come to vote for us, we will make rather better development.’ Because of giving speech like that, as the residents prefer voting for AMRDP and accept the idea of AMRDP, they are not really happy to hear his speech.
Attempting to win the support of local business has also been a key campaign tactic of the USDP. That has included promises of economic concessions, immunity from heavy local taxation, and assorted other privileges. This technique has bothered a variety of community members who see the sudden easy business access through a pro-regime party as dangerous to community at large. By only targeting the local business, residents have claimed, the USDP demonstrates its overall interest in retaining power and wining the election, rather then improving the plight of local communities.
A Mon textile trader, who preferred to remain anonymous, from Mudon Township, noted how the USDP has worked to win the support of local businessmen:
The USDP also said that they would give more opportunities for the import and export product traders, commodity brokers, owners of busses that run express-busses, and other business men to run their businesses, if it [USDP] wins the election in a landslide victory and has the power of running the place government. This is [how they] organized among the business people.
A resident from Mudown Township, 68, who preferred to remain anonymous, noted the dependence USDP funding and pressure is creating within local business communities:
Two months ago, the USDP organized the people and said that if they were able to run the office and rule the country, they would give many opportunities for the businessmen, so vote for them and donate for them. There are no more people who work as independent businessmen. My nephew was told this by them. There are a lot of people who are going to vote for it [USDP] and support for it. These people are the ones who will die without getting cared for by it [USDP]. (Interview conducted on 15 October 2010)
These options from local residents in Mudon highlight key concerns that could impact local communities after the election. With the support of the current regime, the aggressive campaigning of the USDP though distribution of snacks, is seen by many residents as unfair. Additionally, the use of local government administration to organize and recruit villagers, and the implicit threat of not attending party events, could undermine trust in the possibility of a democratic process in the future. The development of dependence on the USDP for financial or business concessions could potentially undermine local economies by stymieing financial independence.