The chair of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Than Htay, has said there are no “Muslims or Chinese” in his bloodline at a campaign event in Naypyitaw.
The racist comment comes in the midst of an election campaign that has been marred by violence, which some have warned could descend further into attacks against ethnic minorities.
Speaking to a crowd in Thit Tat Kalay village in Zeya Thiri township, where he is competing for a Lower House seat, Than Htay said: “You can check if my wife and children are running shady businesses or if they’ve taken any liberties, what bloodline they have, if there are any Muslims or Chinese.”
“You can also check whether I’m mixed blood with blood from foreign countries,” he added.
The UK-based Burma Human Rights Network last month warned the election could spark “far worse violence in the near future targeting religious and ethnic minorities.”
Than Htay said on Friday it was unpleasant to be campaigning during the Covid-19 pandemic but he was doing so because otherwise opposing parties would say he was afraid to compete.
“The opponents are saying I don’t have faith in myself or I’m scared to lose. That’s simply not true, I’m ready,” he said.
He has instructed party members to avoid campaigns with mass gatherings in line with rules aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19, he said.
Friday’s campaign event was attended by about 50 people, the maximum allowed under guidelines issued by election officials, he added.
Before the speech, around 200 supporters rallied for the USDP by walking and riding motorcycles around the village.
Than Htay said on Facebook on September 16 that the party had decided to put campaign events with mass gatherings on hold, and that it would not be a “real victory” to win an election during the pandemic.
“If you can’t defeat Covid and win the election, it won’t be a real victory. I don’t think it’d be a pleasant experience to set your victory flag in a country that’s in shambles,” he said.
The likelihood of a USDP election victory was vanishingly slim even before the pandemic; the party was almost wiped out in the 2015 election and the NLD commands a supermajority in parliament.
The Zeya Thiri constituency is home to large numbers of military personnel and is where the military’s commander-in-chief’s office is headquartered. Than Htay’s biggest opponent there is the NLD’s Dr Moe Swe.
Than Htay is a former brigadier general and was deputy minister for energy under the military regime. He became a Lower House MP in Myan Aung, Ayeyarwady region, when the USDP won the rigged 2010 election.
He then served as the energy minister from 2011 to 2013 and as the railways and transport minister from 2013 until 2015.
In 2015, he ran to defend his seat in the same constituency but lost to the NLD candidate. He became chair of the USDP the following year.