RANGOON — The chief of Burma’s national election commission has defended the involvement of the army in politics as necessary to prevent a military coup, while also pledging to ban campaign methods used by the main opposition party during the previous by-election.
“The military MPs make up 25 percent of Parliament. To be clear, we have them because we don’t want a coup. The military is in Parliament not because of power, but for negotiation,” said Tin Aye, chairman of the Union Election Commission (EC), during a meeting on Monday in Pathein with sub-election commissions and political parties.
“When will they leave?” added the EC chief, a former general himself, referring to the military-appointed lawmakers. “Only when democratic standards are high in the country.”
The military-drafted 2008 Constitution reserves one-quarter of Parliament seats for military-appointed MPs. Most of the remaining seats are held by the pro-military ruling party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
“For the 2015 election, I promise it will be systematic, free and fair,” he said.
Tin Aye was formerly a lieutenant-general in the Burma Army, a member of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), and a protégé of ex-junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe.
In 2010, he won a seat in the Lower House of Parliament, representing Mandalay Division’s Tada-U Township as a member of the USDP. He was nominated by President Thein Sein as chairman of the EC in 2011.
At the meeting on Monday, he said the EC in the future would only allow politicians to campaign in their own constituencies, in a move that will likely affect Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
During by-elections in 2012, the NLD contested seats in 44 of 45 constituencies up for grabs. Before the election, Suu Kyi traveled to those townships and campaigned on behalf of her party members, who won 43 of the 44 seats.
“Contestants need to say something like, ‘If you have nothing to do with my constituency, please stay away. This is my constituency and I will do my own campaign,’” Tin Aye said, adding that he would set the campaign period and zones, while also determining who would be eligible to campaign there.
He said that although the 2012 by-elections were praised by the United States and the European Union, the campaigns resembled public demonstrations. He was referring to NLD rallies that saw thousands of people in NLD T-shirts come out to show their support, often waving the party’s flag to welcome Suu Kyi.
“Those campaigns were so free that they looked rather like the ’88 uprising revisited,” he said, referring to the 1988 pro-democracy uprising against the dictatorship of Gen. Ne Win.
Phyo Min Thein, an MP from the NLD, criticized Tin Aye’s approach.
“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of the NLD. As the leader of a political party, she has a right to do election campaigns in all constituencies where her party will contest seats. What U Tin Aye said is undemocratic and a ban on freedom of assembly,” he told The Irrawaddy.
But USDP lawmaker Hla Swe said he agreed with the EC chief.
“It makes more sense to campaign in your own constituency, rather than campaigning for someone else. If you campaign for others, it looks like they are incompetent,” he said. “I welcome the ban. It sounds fair.”