• ANALYSIS

    Myanmar’s army-backed party bullish despite Suu Kyi challenge

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    NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: With no little swagger, Myanmar’s army-backed ruling party has hit the campaign trail predicting it will win 75 percent of votes in next month’s election despite a formidable opponent in Aung San Suu Kyi and her wildly popular opposition party.

    The November 8 elections will be the first nationwide polls in a quarter of a century to be contested by Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party.

    Boisterous rallies of thousands of people have greeted her convoy as it criss-crosses the country.

    Supporters hope that presages a decisive victory for her National League for Democracy — if the vote is free and fair.

    But her main rival, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), is also brimming with confidence.

    It is the former junta’s political heir and many members swapped army uniforms for parliamentary seats after a flawed 2010 election.

    For all the enthusiasm over Suu Kyi, the party is in a bullish mood.

    This week its official Facebook page proclaimed “more than 75 percent in Myanmar is going to vote for the USDP,” a claim that drew derision from social media users on the other side of the political spectrum.

    In Naypyidaw, home to the sprawling parliament led by President Thein Sein, supporters turned out Wednesday decked in the USDP’s emerald-green T-shirts and caps, waving party flags and dancing to pop music.

    They applauded a ruling party that has overseen four years of sweeping reforms, earning the once-pariah nation the embrace of the international community and a flood of foreign investment.

    ‘Win and everything is perfect’
    Jobs have come along with the money, many political and social freedoms have been restored and a limited peace deal has been reached with some warring ethnic groups.

    For Than Naing those factors are enough for him to renew his loyalty at the ballot box.

    “If the USDP wins, all of us farmers will share peace and a better economy, everything will be perfect,” he told AFP.

    Nearby, a retired soldier hailed the continuity the party offers in a nation that experienced almost a half-century of military rule.

    “I was a soldier before… I believe in USDP completely,” said Kyaw Myint Oo, hinting at the automatic loyalty the party expects from many in the armed forces.

    With its campaign for “change” the NLD has tried to harness the deep public resentment among civilians against the former military rulers, who enriched themselves while driving the country into poverty and isolation.

    The USDP has responded with the slogan “We have been changing,” playing up its role at the head of a quasi-civilian government that has shepherded reforms.

    USDP campaign trucks are bedecked with pictures of President Thein Sein, a former junta general who has led the government since 2011 and has not ruled out another tilt at the top job.

    But the USDP, which was accused of rampant cheating in the 2010 polls, has faced claims that it is also using religion in its bid to woo voters, stirring anti-Muslim feeling in the Buddhist-majority nation.

    Allegations of other dirty tricks and vote-buying are also doing the rounds as the campaign enters the home stretch.

    Observers say no party — let alone the USDP — is likely to win 75 percent of the contested seats.

    But under a controversial constitutional provision one quarter of seats in the lower and upper chambers are reserved for the army.

    That favors the USDP, which only needs to clinch over 160 seats in the combined parliament — or 33 percent of the elected element of the legislature — because it can link up with the appointed military MPs to govern.

    The NLD however needs around 67 percent of the elected portion to secure a majority.

    But with no forecasts on how the numbers will emerge, USDP members say there is everything to play for.

    Asked if the party really believes it can win 75 percent of the votes, Tin Maung Win, the party’s candidate for Mingaladon in Yangon, was unequivocal.

    “Yes, it’s true… we’ll win pretty well,” he told AFP.

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