Myanmar military proxy party gears up for electoral campaign in Rakhine State 

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a military proxy representing the junta, has reportedly initiated activities in restive Rakhine State, a known stronghold of ethnic political parties prior to last year’s coup. 

Dr San Shwe, the state’s USDP chair, told Myanmar Now that he met with party members from Pauktaw, Ponnagyun, Rathedaung and Sittwe townships in the Rakhine State capital on Monday.  

“We need to check how many members we have in our party and how many are still in service,” he said, adding that he has been explaining the military’s approach to an electoral system based on Proportional Representation (PR) ahead of a junta-controlled vote planned for next year. 

Ethnic Rakhine parties—including the Arakan National Party (ANP), Arakan Front Party and the Arakan League for Democracy—typically garnered the most public support in the state in past elections, along with the National League for Democracy (NLD), whose national government was ousted in the February 2021 coup. The USDP has not historically had a foothold in the region. 

USDP meeting in Sittwe on December 12 (USDP)

Prominent Rakhine politician and retired ANP parliamentarian Pe Than—against whom the junta has filed criminal charges—commented to Myanmar Now that the USDP was likely capitalising on the shrinking political competition in order to establish a support base. 

“It appears that they are once again trying to gain the public’s support after losing on many fronts,” he said. “However, if the Rakhine parties have complete freedom to compete in the election, it’s almost impossible for [the USDP] to win.”

At the time of reporting, it was not clear if ethnic Rakhine parties would take part in an election under the military council, a future undertaking which has already been condemned by the public and international watchdogs as likely being neither free nor fair. 

“We’ll just have to see if the Rakhine parties will ‘compete’ in the election just because they’re obliged to do so under pressure from the military, or if they will choose to run for office in only three constituencies like they did in the past,” Pe Than said. 

The comment was a reference to a practice under previous military regimes in which parties fielded candidates in a minimum of three constituencies to meet election law requirements.

“However, if the Rakhine parties were to ferociously put their mind to running for office, there is absolutely no chance for the USDP to win. They only stand a chance if the Rakhine parties choose not to take part in the election.”

ANP chair Thar Htun Hla said that his party had not begun preparing for an election under the military council. 

“At this point in time, I don’t think it’s possible to even discuss this subject,” he told Myanmar Now. “Even if they are actually going to hold that election, there is no safety guaranteed for the public and the voters, which is one of the most crucial electoral requirements. I personally don’t think that the public are in a position to be able to vote safely.”

An ANP rally in Thandwe, Rakhine State in October 2015 (Myanmar Now)

The Union Election Commission, which is under the junta’s direct control, recently summoned the ANP party leadership to Naypyitaw, warning them that a party statement condemning the Myanmar army’s shelling of Rakhine State in September was “one-sided.”

The AFP, headed by Dr Aye Maung, is possibly the only Arakanese party that occasionally attends the military council’s meetings and conferences regarding the PR system set to be used in the upcoming polls. 

Pe Than speculated that the military would “take advantage” of electoral laws that do not specify a minimum level of nationwide participation required for voting results to be considered legitimate. 

“They are not taking into consideration if the public is actually willing to take part in it,” he said of a 2023 election. “They are going to force the military families and their affiliates to vote for them, and try to win.” 

The USDP underwent a major shakeup in October in which coup leader Min Aung Hlaing handpicked those appointed to leadership positions in the party. USDP chairperson Khin Yi, a retired military and police general and former immigration minister, is recently said to have attended meetings in Bago Region. 

He is known for organising military parades and rallies under the administration of ex-general Thein Sein, prior to the election of the now-ousted NLD administration. 

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