Burma’s Union Election Commission has submitted separate proposals asking President Thein Sein to provide land for offices and car import permits to the country’s 65 registered political parties.
In the two letters sent to the President’s Office on Thursday, the UEC requested that the executive “consider necessary instructions” to distribute state-owned lands for political parties’ use and to issue car import licenses—allowing for the duty-free purchase of foreign-made vehicles that would otherwise come with a steep import tax—for the parties to use for campaigning purposes.
“The political parties are key political forces in a disciplined, multi-party democracy; they participate both inside Parliament and in outside politics,” the letter read, acknowledging that parties faced difficulties opening offices in towns across Burma.
The UEC proposals have come in for criticism in a country where land rights are often violated and in which car permits have a controversial recent history. The letters were distributed to political parties on Monday, said Khin Maung Swe, the chairman of one of Burma’s smaller parties, the National Democratic Force.
“We did not talk about the car permits during our meeting, but we raised the issue of land difficulties that we are now facing,” he said, adding that skyrocketing land prices in Burma were hindering his party’s ability to expand its reach via branch offices and other organizing operations.
He said the commission’s thinking reflected concerns raised by many of Burma’s small and ethnically oriented parties during their meetings with the UEC.
“It is a good sign that the Election Commission is paying attention to the parties’ needs, as in other countries,” he said, while acknowledging that the proposal, if implemented, might be to the detriment of Burma’s biggest and most powerful parties, which already have a political presence in many parts of the country.
The current instructions for the registration of a political party in Burma do not state any specific privileges granted to political parties. Under the country’s junta-era Election Law, if a political party is abolished, the party’s properties are to be nationalized.
Dr. Aye Maung, an Arakanese lawmaker and a leader of the Arakan National Party, said he was not aware of the UEC letters, but he confirmed that ethnic political parties had raised the land issue with the electoral body.
“The imported license fee for vehicles should be equal for every citizen, not strictly for the political parties,” he added.
Myo Yan Naung Thein, an outspoken political analyst and a secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party’s research team, questioned the fairness of the UEC proposals.
“The Election Commission is trying to win over other small parties for political gain while it is pushing harshly on the NLD, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said. On the same day that the letters were received by political parties, the UEC sent a “warning letter” to Suu Kyi, who was accused by the commission of challenging the military in a public rally for constitutional reform in Mandalay earlier this month.
Thein Nyunt, a parliamentarian and chairman of the New National Democracy Party, said his party was also unaware of the UEC’s proposals.
If taken up by the Thein Sein administration, Thein Nyunt said the matter would have to be discussed among party members, as “my party does not ask for any support from government or others—NGOs, crony businessmen, embassies or foreign countries.
“Our party was not formed to receive such privilege,” he added. “Since the beginning, we have been here to help in terms of legal advice and other difficulties they [constituents] face.”
Presidential spokesman Ye Htut could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, while a President’s Office official declined to discuss the issue.