Myanmar - Political Parties
Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA)
National Unity Party
| National League for Democracy
| National Democratic Force
Shan Nationalities League for Democracy
| Shan Nationalities Democratic Party
(as of Nov 14)
The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) was a mass organization used as a base of political support by Burma’s ruling military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). By 2007 the regime was preparing to transform the USDA mass-member organization into a political party. Through coercion and pressure, the USDA hoped to win at least thirty percent of parliamentary seats in any future election. The regime handed USDA more economic leverage over local businessmen throughout the country by giving it control over selected government contracts and export/import licenses. Many suspected USDA will award these lucrative contracts and licenses in exchange for votes.
In 1997, the United States put in place a prohibition on new investment in Burma in response to the Government of Burma's large-scale repression of the democratic opposition in that country. On July 28, 2003, those sanctions were expanded by steps taken in Executive Order 13310, which contained prohibitions implementing sections 3 and 4 of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-61) and supplemented that Act with additional restrictions. The order incorporates existing designation criteria set forth in Executive Order 13310, authorizing the Secretary of the Treasury, after consultation with the Secretary of State, to designate any person determined to be a senior official of the Union Solidarity and Development Association of Burma, or any successor entity.
The government-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) claimed an overwhelming majority of seats in the 2010 elections for the national parliament and state/regional assemblies; 25 percent of seats in all legislatures were reserved for military appointees. On March 30, 2011, SPDC formally dissolved itself and transferred power to the new Union Government, headed by President Thein Sein, ex-general and prime minister for the SPDC.
The National Unity Party [NUP] was formed in 1989 as the pro-government party to contest the 1990 elections. In 1990, the regime deployed the National Unity Party to bribe, threaten, harass, and coerce the population into voting for its candidates. Aung San Suu Kyi was held under house arrest and the regime fostered many break-off parties to divide the pro-democracy opposition. Convinced it would win, the regime let the election proceed with a secret ballot. In return, the Burmese handed it a stunning defeat. NUP won over 21 percent of the popular vote, but under the first-past-the post system secured only 10 seats in parliament, placing third behind Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD). The NUP won only ten of 485 seats in Parliament.
By 2010 the NUP consisted primarily of aging politicians from that period. The NUP strongly supported the new constitution and publicly announced it planned to run in the 2010 elections. The NUP claims the regime's National Convention was fully representative of all interested parties and the resulting constitution is the best possible path to democracy for Burma.
Leaders of the pro-regime National Unity Party (NUP) reveal an outlook on Burma and the world reminiscent of the bygone days of Ne Win and his "Burmese Way to Socialism" ideology, which viewed the international community, and domestic dissenters, as enemies of the state. The NUP stood firmly behind the military regime, which had a similar view of the world but lacked any ideology or real intellect, thus allowing the party to maintain a flimsy, but national, political operation.
While many outside Burma perpetuated the impression of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party as a large movement with massive support waiting to take the Parliamentary seats they won in the 1990 election, the reality is quite different. Without a doubt, Aung San Suu Kyi remains a popular and beloved figure of the Burman majority, but this status is not enjoyed by her party. Already frustrated with the sclerotic leadership of the elderly NLD "Uncles", the party lost even more credibility within the pro-democracy movement when its leaders refused to support the demonstrators in September 2007, and even publicly criticized them.
The way the Uncles run the NLD indicates the party is not the last great hope for democracy and Burma. The Party is strictly hierarchical, new ideas are not solicited or encouraged from younger members, and the Uncles regularly expel members they believe are "too active." NLD youth repeatedly complain they are frustrated with the party leaders. Repeated overtures from and "summits" with the leaders of the 88 Generation in 2007 failed to result in any significant cooperation between the factions. Indeed, lack of unity among the pro-democracy opposition remained one of the biggest obstacles to democratic change in Burma.
The "Uncles" repeatedly rebuffed the most dynamic and creative members of the pro-democracy opposition, who reinvigorated the pro-democracy movement throughout 2006 and 2007 by strategically working to promote change through grass-roots human rights and political awareness and highlighting the regime's economic mismanagement. Nor had the party made any effort to join forces with the technically sophisticated bloggers and young, internet-savvy activists, who had been so clever at getting out the images which repeatedly damaged the regime and undermined its international credibility. Instead, the Uncles spend endless hours discussing their entitlements from the 1990 elections and abstract policy which they are in no position to enact.
In March 2010, the government published widely criticized election and party registration laws to govern the conduct of elections planned for 2010. The laws annulled the results of the 1990 elections, barred political prisoners from party membership and parliamentary candidacy, and granted broad authority to the regime-appointed Union Election Commission to oversee and regulate political party activities.
Provisions in the new Law were incorporated in particular with a view to preventing pro-democracy activist and NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi from being a candidate in forthcoming elections. "The law requires the NLD to choose between participating in the elections and keeping its leader and hundreds of its unjustly imprisoned members," stated Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, adding,"[t]his is a choice that no political party should have to make and is a transparent attempt to knock the main opposition party out of the running."
Another significant feature of the new Law is that it promotes the principle of a "disciplined multi-party democratic system" that apparently no longer demarcates politics from business, permitting political parties to form businesses as a means of garnering funds. It has been speculated that sub-section 3 was included by the junta specifically in order to enable the generals to "channel funds and property owned by military-aligned conglomerates into their political parties to finance candidates in as many constituencies as possible. Moreover, even though the Law gives the Union Election Commission the power to audit party financial accounts, the provision may have the effect of enabling businessmen "to merge and run businesses under the cover of a political party.
In April 2010, all active-duty cabinet ministers resigned their military commissions, reportedly to prepare for candidacy in the 2010 elections. Prime Minister Thein Sein was appointed head of the pro-government Union Solidarity and Development Party. In late August 2010 there was a massive reshuffle of top military positions. Many senior generals retired from the military, with other generals assuming those commands. Than Shwe, who previously held the rank of general in the army, and others retained their cabinet positions.
The country held its first elections in 20 years on November 7, 2010. Electoral laws, published on March 8, are based on the flawed 2008 constitution. Under the laws political parties were required to compete under highly restrictive conditions that limited campaign activities, imposed relatively high candidate fees, and gave unusually broad powers to a government-appointed UEC to control the activities of political parties and their members.
After announcing the election date, the government gave registered political parties approximately two weeks' notice to submit names of their candidates. Many political parties complained that the government's short notice did not provide them sufficient time to find candidates and identify constituencies in which they would contest seats. Individual members of some prodemocratic opposition parties used their own money to conduct campaign activities because restrictive laws made it difficult for candidates to raise money legally. The registration fee of 500,000 kyat ($500) per candidate was well above the means of the average citizen.
The United States condemned the planning and the execution of the elections as neither free nor fair. The regime proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party won over three-quarters of elective parliamentary seats, although observers around the country reported widespread electoral malfeasance, including abuse of advance voting procedures. Per Burma's 2008 constitution, military appointees fill one-quarter of all parliamentary seats. The new, nominally civilian government took office on April 1, 2011, and the SPDC was dissolved. Insiders from the SPDC era fill almost all key positions at the national level and most at the state/region level. The current roles of the former top two SPDC leaders, Senior General Than Shwe and Vice Senior General Maung Aye, remain unclear.
In April 2012 the country held largely transparent and inclusive by-elections in which the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, won 43 of 45 contested seats out of a total 664 seats in the legislature. Constitutional provisions grant one-quarter of all national and one-third of all regional/state parliamentary seats to active-duty military appointees and provide that the military indefinitely assume power over all branches of the government should the president declare a national state of emergency. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) continued to hold an overwhelming majority of the seats in the national parliament and state/regional assemblies, and active-duty military officers continued to wield authority at many levels of government.
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