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USDP adopts ruling party mantra, with a twist, in by-election manifesto

A supporter waves a flag during a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) campaign rally in Rangoon on 6 November 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

Looking to capitalise on rising nationalist sentiments globally and promising “real change” in a thinly veiled shot at the ruling National League for Democracy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party made its case to voters in a broadcast on Tuesday evening, less than two months out from a 1 April by-election.

Fifteen months since the former, military-backed ruling party took a drubbing at the polls in the November 2015 general election, USDP general secretary Thet Naing Win urged voters to choose the USDP “because both the party and the candidates are the most reliable ones.”

Sounding familiar themes put forward by the USDP in the lead-up to the 2015 election, Thet Naing Win portrayed the party as the father of Burma’s modern-day democracy, touting the economic and political reforms enacted by its former standard-bearer, ex-President Thein Sein, and the “door to peace” that his administration opened with the signing of a so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement in October 2015.

“Let’s vote for USDP for a real change,” Thet Naing Win concluded in an unofficial translation of Tuesday’s remarks, in what appeared to be a co-opting of the NLD’s 2015 election campaign slogan, “Time for change.”

The NLD, incidentally, has dusted off that slogan and will be using it again on the campaign trail this year.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD won a historic majority in 2015, capturing nearly 80 percent of elected seats in the Union Parliament and wresting control of the legislature and executive from the USDP, which had dominated both previously. April 1 will mark the one-year anniversary of the NLD’s term in office, and many are likely to interpret the by-election as a referendum on the early-days performance of the party since it took power.

“I would like to reiterate that our USDP is a nationalist party, which will exist till the doomsday,” read the unofficial translation of Thet Naing Win’s remarks, which were carried in Wednesday’s edition of the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar.

The USDP was set to contest all 19 seats up for a vote in the April by-election, but the death last week of its candidate in the race for a Mong Hsu Township seat in the Shan State legislature means the party, like the NLD, will field 18 candidates. The NLD had also intended to compete for every seat up for a vote but its candidate in Hpruso Township, Karreni State, missed a filing deadline and was rendered ineligible to run.

Twenty-four political parties and seven independent candidates will contest the by-election, but the NLD, USDP and a handful of popular ethnic parties are expected to be the polls’ major contenders.

“Our party has laid down correct policies and practical programmes to be able to join hands with the people in building up of peaceful, modern, developed democratic nation bringing the national interest to the fore,” read Thet Naing Win’s statement, which was replete with references to the party’s self-anointed status as protector of the national interest.

The official campaign period for the by-election began at the end of last month. A total of 95 candidates will contest the 19 seats in play — nine in the Lower House, three in the Upper House and seven in state and divisional legislatures.

The most crowded field can be found just south of the commercial capital Rangoon, where Suu Kyi gave up the Kawhmu Township seat she was re-elected to in 2015 to become a member of the cabinet and state counsellor.  A total of nine candidates will compete for the Lower House constituency, including the USDP candidate who was defeated by Suu Kyi in the general election, Kyaw Zin Hein.