USDA election party membership fee causes frustration amongst members

June 8, 2010

Mon State: Township Union Solidarity and Development Associations (USDA) in Mon State have begun charging members a membership fee for raising party funds now that the USDA has reformed as a political party and can no longer officially receive state funding.

HURFOM researchers have learned during interviews with USDA party members that that member’s fee is relatively small, only 300 kyat, but has lead to conflict and misunderstanding amongst the party’s members due to the unclear financial management of this new cost, and disagreement over the right to chage for membership fees when many members were forced to join.

Prime minister U Thein Sein, who has stepped down from his military role as General Thein Sein, bur remains as prime minster, was appointed chairman of the USDA Party (USDP), officially announced in the state run news on April 30th. Under the 2010 election law released in, the new party would officially not be allowed to receive state funds during the campaign, and instead appears that it will be dependent on drumming up its own financial support via membership fees. While this change appears to be countrywide HURFOM is only able to confirm that thus far this practice is being implemented in Mon State.

A USDA member and university student resident in Mudon, Min Kyaw Lwin, explained his frustration that others in the party have felt, “As for me, the membership fee, 300 kyat, is just the price for a cup of tea. However, I was not the one who became a party member by my own decision; I do not want to pay the money. It really annoys me. At this point I have not yet paid the fee.”

Other members have reported similar cases, especially amongst students who became party members not because of their intention but simply to function normally in the school system. Many students have been party members since they were in Basic School; as one teacher in a Moulmein Township high school explained to HURFOM, class teachers will force students to fill out membership forms in class, with their success as students often contingent on their decision to join the USDA party.

The membership fee of 300 kyat is a one time cost, however, it will be charged to all current and future members. When extrapolated to the membership of 24 million reported in the state run news paper the New Light of Myanmar, the USDP will be collecting nearly 7.2 billion kyat, or around $7.3 million USD. With only an estimated 50 million residents in Burma, this extensive fund will be derived from nearly half the country, with members in the civil services, regular civilians and students. Having never previously before charged membership fees, the collection of small amounts in to a large pool is already causing concern amongst membership due to the lack of a clear-cut or accountable system amongst senior members.

“Now the [USDP] organizer started accounting for membership fees in my village. Since there are many memberships in the village, it [USDP} gets a lot of funds,” explained a young Mon USDP party member. “The problem is the organizer himself has bad background managing fund, [but] he was forced to resign [from the] civil service because of [his] corruption. Now he is managing [money] again [only this time] in the party funds, and that leads to a problem I think. Indeed, the financial information should be clear enough for every member [to understand].”

Since the announcement for election preparations residents from many areas in Mon State have assumed that USDA will the backbone of the military controlled civilian representative government. Having been formed in 1993 and previously operated as a self declared non-governmental community development organization the USDA was heavily directed and funded by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Despite claims of community development projects and funding the USDA has been widely criticized as government controlled thug group used in protest suppression.

However due to intense polices of pressure for regular civilians to join the party regardless of interest or desire, an unconfirmed number are members to simply make daily life easier and avoid harassment form hard-line USDA members or SPDC and military forces.

A 44-year-old tuition teacher who also volunteers in a community literacy course in Moulmein, Mon state, said of the USDP’s new funding strategy; “The USDA has existed since the time of SPDC, a long time ago. The question [now] is about funding. The organization has taken the money from the public by many methods but no financial information was shared to the public. It always bullied people since the organization gets its full authority from the government. Now [that] the organization [has] transformed into a political party and it is impossible that party members are willing to pay a membership fee, I am sure they [will] have to pay [because they are] forced, as usual.”


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