RANGOON — The National League for Democracy (NLD) has called on Burma’s Union Election Commission to change the campaigning rules it approved earlier this month, saying the current strictures may not allow for free and fair elections when voters go to the polls next year.
The Union Election Commission (UEC) approved the campaign rules on July 1, but opposition parties have been quick to condemn them, saying certain restrictions, such as limiting the official campaigning period, would hamper parties’ ability to reach out to voters and get their message across. A requirement that all political rallies be approved by local officials in advance has also been criticized as an affront to candidates’ ability to freely campaign.
The UEC stated in the directive that parties may begin campaigning no sooner than 30 days before the election and may not undertake campaign activities on the day before the election. A date for the general election has not yet been set, but the poll is expected sometime in late 2015.
The rules also call for candidates in every constituency to submit an application to their local election commission office at least 15 days prior to any planned political rally. Applications must include the place, date, time and duration of the rally, details on any scheduled speakers, and information about the applicant and whether vehicles will be used in the event.
In a statement released Monday, the NLD urged the commission to allow for a campaign period of at least 60 days, with Burma’s largest opposition party saying 30 days was “not enough.”
Hla Maung Cho, director of the UEC, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the commission based its decision to limit the campaign period on an examination of electoral practices in other Asean member states and European countries.
Requiring the submission of a detailed application for political rallies 15 days ahead of the event would be impractical, the NLD’s statement said, adding that five days’ advanced notice should be sufficient.
“We ask this to avoid any overlap in venues where parties want to hold the rallies or give public speeches,” Hla Maung Cho said in defense of the rule. “There are currently 67 parties. We will not reject all applications, it is to have time for negotiation if the parties’ rallies overlap.”
The NLD, whose chairwoman is Aung San Suu Kyi, also said members of the UEC should not have had ties to any political party in Burma for at least five years to ensure the commission’s independence.
That would appear to be a direct challenge to the UEC chairman, Tin Aye, who was a member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) until 2011, when he took over the commission chairmanship.
“There is nothing in the Constitution stating that members of the commission must have no dealings with any parties for five years before the election,” Hla Maung Cho said, adding, “There is no circumstance under which we would change the campaign rules.”
The NLD, however, said the 2015 general elections’ credibility would hinge on whether the rules are amended.
“The commission must change the rules and directives if they really want to ensure a free and fair election,” the NLD statement said.