Keep a watchful eye on Kayah State

Nay Htun Naing


The Union Election Commission (UEC) officially allows the government officers to start election campaign on July 8.

It looks like the members of the executive body made the most of the chance to begin campaigns two months prior to other political parties. They held campaigns both directly and indirectly.

President Thein Sein visited Kyauktan Township for the opening ceremony of the Hmawwun Bridge on July 12. He was accompanied by his reliable union ministers. Among them was Ohn Myint, Minister of Livestock and Fishery, who is rumoured to compete in the election from Kyauktan Constituency.

Presidential office minister Soe Thein, Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation Myint Hlaing, Minister for Information Ye Htut, and other union ministers including Myint Swe, chief minister of Yangon Region accompanied the President.

Testing the waters?

His visit yielded some interesting factors.

First of all, some Hmawwun residents staged a demonstration urging the President to run for next term, which was indeed controversial.

Some said some of the protestors were not native residents while others said they were just holding placards and posters just because they were distributed.

The activities of the members of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) were not seen openly during the visit; just supposed rural-youngsters plainly clothed were seen. They held national flags and put the stickers with President Thein Sein's portrait on their shirts.

Did someone or a certain organisation arrange the event for President Thein Sein who has said he would consider re-election if the people supported him?

Secondly, the state-run media portrayed the President's visit with high regards. Another interesting point is the title ''Chairman of Central Committee for Rural Development and Poverty Alleviation'' was added to the more conventional usage ''President Thein Sein'' in state-run newspapers.  

The usage was probably meant to hint that the President is trying to relieve poverty.

The liveliest persons during the trip were President Thein Sein and Minister Ohn Myint.

One can evaluate the weight of the rumours that Thein Sein will employ union ministers like Soe Thein, Aung Min, Ye Htut, Ohn Myint, Myint Hlaing, and Kyaw Hsan to run for the second term by observing his trip.

The President disclosed his regional development plan at the trip to a mediocre bridge opening ceremony.

The trip could be the President's and the ministers' first move towards election.

The trip to Kayah State

President Thein Sein and the ministers continued their journey to Kayah State after the Hmawwun trip.

They attended another bridge opening ceremony for the Thanlwin Bridge (Hpasaung).

The local people again called for the President's re-election – only the number this time was lower than that in Hmawwun.

Rumour had it: ward administrators gave tokens and told the people to obligatorily attend the bridge opening ceremony and the Loikaw Main Power Plant opening ceremony, which would be attended by the President. 

The President, however, did not show up at the both events, blaming the weather. The Thanlwin Bridge (Hpasaung) was opened by Union Minister Ohn Myint on behalf of the President.

The state-run newspapers again featured the news of the President's social and religious activities in his Loikaw trip immensely.

Further a news story with the title "Over 90 per cent of households in Kayah State will have access to electricity", which concerned with an organisational task, was featured.

What is going on in Kayah State?

As President Thein Sein visited Hmawwun and Kayah State successively, one can speculate his steps. He was visiting the constituencies that were rumoured from which his reliable ministers will compete in the upcoming election.

The next trip after Kayah State must relate or fall under this theory.

Kayah State is complicated. Earlier rumours claimed that ministers Soe Thein and Aung Min would run for election from Bawlakha, Shadaw and Demawso constituencies.

Since the regions locate near the military-controlled areas, they could win the election just by the support of some local residents.

They though the local Karenni National Progressive Party would support them and won the appreciation of the natives. They went to the region for campaign works, but a misunderstanding bred between the military and the local armed group and led to some clashes.

But the conflict in Kayah State was sorted in a short time; there were no feuds like in Kachin, Karen, and Shan states.

The situation was changed after the USDP released a remark that it did not allow Soe Thein and Aung Min to stand for the election from Kayah State.

Khin Maung Oo, chief minister of Kayah State, and four other ministers resigned from the USDP.

Khin Maung Oo said he left the party because it investigated him with the tribunal over the nomination of election candidates who were elected internally by voting.

The USDP officially stated that it allowed the Kayah State chief minister to resign.

Meanwhile the relationship between the USDP and President Thein Sein has become cold.

Rumours cast that the President would not compete in the election from the USDP, and then the Kayah State's chief minister resigned.

The two events solidified the accusation that the President controls the state and regional ministers.

The five ministers seem to stand for the upcoming election. Khin Maung Oo said he would stand as an independent if he was to compete in the election.

It is noticeable that some are willing to join forces with the military representatives who occupy the 25 per cent of the Parliament. They would join hands to acquire the 26 per cent of the seats.

According to some unconfirmed sources, the USDP also has such a dream.

There are already 25 per cent of the military representatives. The party will try to score 15 per cent and seek for others who can acquire the remaining 11 per cent. The 1 per cent represents six representatives, so it's 66 representatives for 11 per cent.

So the independents and those compete in the election for personal gains could be useful for those who want to partner with the military.

There is possibility of such a scenario in Kayah State.   

The condition in Kayah State

Kayah State plays a key role in the 2015 election. Kayah State, which has a less population and military-controlled areas, can choose seven Lower House MPs and 12 Upper House MPs. If one single party wins the election in Kayah State, that party will surely have 19 seats in the Union Parliament.      

Kayah State has a population of 286,627 only. There are 128,401 in Lowikaw Township, 79,201 in Demawso Township, 29,374 in Hpruso Township, 6,742 in Shadaw Township, 8,480 in Bawlakhe Township, 25,594 in Hpasawng Township and 6,319 in Mese Township. Nearly half of the populations in each township are eligible voters.

Moreover, Kayah State has advantages in terms of designating constituencies. Normally, each state or region has to choose 12 Upper House MPs.

For a seat in the Upper House, a constituency is designated in two or three townships from most of the regions and states. But the procedure is different in Kayah State. With its less population, the state has to combine all the seven townships to get 12 seats in the Upper House. So each township has the chance to get two parliamentary seats. Not only Kayah state but some townships of Kayin, Mon and Chin states also have such a chance.

In other state and regions, a parliamentary seat for the Upper House is to be chosen from two or three townships. However, the aforementioned states have the chance to get two representatives each. Among them, Kayah State enjoys the greatest chance. It is not necessary to seek many voters to get ‘yes’ votes.

For example, Shadaw, Bawlakhe and Mese townships each have thousands of people. Shadaw and Bawlakhe are military-controlled areas. Those who run for election in those areas can surely win if they get an average of 1,500 votes. This is why Kayah State is attractive to every political party.

For that reason, President Thein Sein and his Union ministers visited Kayah State within ten days after being officially allowed to canvass for votes.

The provisions of the Election Law

Although they are permitted to launch election campaign and regional organisational tasks, they cannot act beyond the Election Law.

Particularly, they cannot spend regional development funds on their campaign.

According to the Political Parties Registration Law, the Election Law and by-laws, any parliamentary candidate cannot use more than Ks 10 million for their election campaign. If the candidate is from a political party, he or she can spend within the range the party has set.

Now, President Thein Sein has said he will not run for next election. But he did not say he would not take the next presidential term. He is likely to take it if given.

Likewise, his ministers have not disclosed the parties they will represent. Their current moves seems to represent the government.

If they conduct regional election campaign by representing the government and spending development funds, their move should be questioned.

How development funds are being spent

In the third week of June, the Public Accounts Joint Committee submitted a report to the Union Parliament. There is one interesting fact in the report.

It is about the spending of funds during the first six months of the 2014-15 financial year for rural development and poverty alleviation tasks. The report outlined 11 points saying funds are being used without discipline.

Another important point is about the condition of money allotted and expenditures.

The report detailed allotted money and expenditures for all the regions and states under the title of rural development and poverty reduction.

According to the report, Ks 1 billion each allotted for Kayah State and Ayeyawady Region has not been spent at all. Until the end of the first six months, they have not spent any money. It is questionable why they have not spent the money allotted.

The question is whether they will spend all the money only when the election nears. If that happens, it would tantamount to abusing the law and they could face repercussions.

Meanwhile, there have been reports that President Thein Sein and his cabinet members will stand for the upcoming election in Ayeyawady, Sagaing and Bago regions ands Shan, Chin and Kayah states.

Until the first half of the 2014-15 fiscal year, Sagaing Region has spent Ks 836.718 million of the allotted Ks 1 billion; Bago Region Ks 408.973 million of the allotted Ks 1 billion; Shan State Ks 1.89 billion of the allotted Ks 4 billion; and Chin State over Ks 1.592 billion of the allotted Ks 5 billion.

These points show that we need to watch how development funds are being used in those regions. Normally, those sums of money come from the government budget. The Union government has given mandate to the regional governments to manage the funds.

Watch them

The media are keeping a watchful eye on the government members and those from the ruling circles who are preparing to run for election.

Moreover, political parties and election monitoring groups from civic organisations are also watching them. How clean the votes they will receive will be decided by their election campaign.

Now, Kayah State plays a major role. The local people from Kayan National Party (KNP), All Nationalities Democracy Party (Kayah State) and Kayah Unity Democracy Party are preparing to compete in the forthcoming election.

KNP was registered in 2010. The two other parties were established in 2013. The ruling USDP, National League for Democracy, Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, National Unity Party and Lisu National Development Party will also run for election. Other political parties also take interest in Kayah State. There might be independent candidates as well.

Anyhow, the local parties in Kayah State must be united. And the local people themselves must decide who they will choose in order that their state could not be used as a tool.