Election officials censor parties’ campaign speeches ‘like the dictatorship did’

Election officials have censored political parties’ televised campaign speeches, leading two parties to boycott the broadcasts while others said authorities were acting like the former dictatorship.   

Thar Tun Hla, chair of the Arakan National Party (ANP), said he had planned to say in the speech he recorded on Tuesday that the Rakhine public was uninterested in the election because of the conflict there and the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the Union Election Commission (UEC) forced him to remove that line, he said.

MRTV is broadcasting 15-minute speeches from different political parties until November 6. Under campaign broadcast rules, parties must submit scripts of their speeches to the UEC for approval. 

Another section of the ANP speech that was cut said the party was unable to form a state government after the 2015 election because of restrictions imposed by the 2008 constitution.

The commission also changed the phrase “civil war” to 

“armed conflict” and “internal conflict” in the speech, which was broadcast on MRTV on Thursday. 

“To be honest, I think the restrictions are harsher than they were in 2010 and 2015,” Thar Tun Hla said. “This current commission, under the current civilian government, seems to lean more towards stricter guidelines, rather than allowing for flexibility,” he said.

He agreed to record the speech despite the censorship because restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 have made it difficult to campaign, he said. 

Two parties have cancelled their election broadcasts in protest against the censorship.

The Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS) said the commission banned it from mentioning the controversial Letpadaung copper mine project as well as land rights issues in Malettoh village in Ayeyarwady.

The National Democratic Force (NDF) party was banned from referring to the NLD’s dominance of parliament as a one-party system and from calling for proportional representation.

The commission also cut a line from the speech that said: “We won’t be hanging on in parliament if the public doesn’t like us.”

DPNS chair Aung Moe Zaw and NDF chair Thein Nyunt said the cuts were a violation of free campaigning and boycotted the broadcasts. 

Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) general secretary Myo Kyaw said he was also forced to cut parts of his speech. “This censorship seems like something the dictatorship did,” he said. 

“They shouldn’t mess with the party’s tone. Shouldn’t there be freedom of expression? As a political party, we should be able to express our opinions and beliefs.” 

He agreed to record the censored speech, which will be broadcast on MRTV on October 1, because it was still a good opportunity to promote the party’s policies, he said. 

UEC spokesperson Myint Naing could not be reached for comment.

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