Campaign activities of the candidates for the upcoming elections, part affiliated or independent, began on the set date of 8 September.
Some ministers and deputy ministers from the cabinet will be competing for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in addition to state and region level ministers.
However, many voters have questioned the nature of their trips; government sponsored or just a campaign trip?
Amidst the suspicions, the President’s trips around the country came to fall under the same accusations. As the elections draw ever closer, so did the frequency of his trips, as supported by the data attached to this article.
In 2013, President Thein Sein made 18 local trips and 16 international trips. In 2014, he made 31 local trips and 9 international. Within the last three months in 2015; August, September and October, he made 11 local trips and no foreign trips. In September alone, he made 10 local trips and a solitary international trip.
Until the 22nd of October, the President has already made 18 trips.
The number of trips made within the recent months alone score higher than the combined of the previous two years.
So, all those trips do beg the question; for what purpose does the President serve by continually making those trips? Were those for regional development? Were those for disaster relief or were those really to give the USDP as much media coverage as possible?
It is a cause for such a question when people receiving the President on his arrival are not only the locals but USDP members, decked out in their party attire, complete with USDP flags and USDP songs.
Television viewers and readers have also criticized that state owned media, both broadcasting and print, have increased their coverage of such events more than the norm.
One of such criticism is the almost full cover page presentation of the President’s Ayerwady Trip accompanied with the title “Meiktila city and field shall be covered by green”.
“It used to be that his trips were just video clips with narrator’s voice while they just let the clip play. Now, maybe because the elections are near, they are showing the people receiving the President and his team, with direct feed and for an extended period of time. Since he is the chairman of the current ruling USDP, the effects of broadcasting is not quite the same near the elections compared to any other time. In addition, the general secretary of the USDP stated in the interview with the BBC that President Thein Sein will be nominated for another term if the USDP wins the elections which understandably give way to suspicions that the President is campaigning for his party under the guise of such trips,” said an anonymous regular TV viewer.
So far President Thein Sein have yet to officially deny that he will be assuming his responsibilities as President for a second term, adding more cause to suspicion.
A statement regarding campaign activities was released together with the announcement for the official date of commencement for campaigning.
In the statement, members of the government were allowed to campaign, if they were in accordance with section 120 and 121 of the constitution and only if they were running in the elections. Therefore, since President Thein Sein is not participating in the elections, breaking the law also comes into the equation.
Section 64 of the constitution also prohibits President and Vice-President from getting involved in their affiliated party activities starting from the day they were selected to their positions.
While it is no surprise that state owned media covers the President’s trips but as he is the chairman of the ruling party and the fact that USDP sponsored clothing and flags are rampant among the receiving groups for his every trip, it further cements the idea that the President is actually on campaign trips.
There were trips before the campaign commencement on 8 September but USDP sponsored welcoming parties were almost non-existent.
“Although nothing specific can be said about the President’s trips, the warm welcomes by local USDP members as well as arrangements makes it sounds the trips no different from a campaign trip. It will do a great deal of good to know clearly since the international community is watching as well,” said an election observer.
Tin Maung Oo from the Former Political Prisoners Society said “It is hard to say exactly what the President means with all those trips but it seems like they have allowed being within legal means. There are questions raised regarding his trips especially since his picture have been widely used by the ruling party to campaign. The President should take more care in his actions by giving more thought to the existence of people who are suspicious of his actions. He should issues strict orders so that his trips do not get confused with campaigning. He should take more care as the President even if the blame can be placed on the ground staff.”
More questions such as “Is the President showing that the military is behind the USDP” rose as he brought the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services along with him on some of the trips. He should expect heavy criticism if this occurs repeatedly.
Well, Mr. President, if you want to attract votes you can do so but it is not comely to bring the likes of government ministers and Defence Chief. It is also not right to use government funds and items for those trips if they were to get votes.
Both yourself and Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing should reanalyze the trips against the criticisms that they are breaching electoral laws. It is also important not to abuse power and influence to stay within the boundaries of electoral laws.
The reason why all of the aforementioned matters were pointed out is because everything that the USDP is doing; campaigning through achievements during your Presidency as well as your photos, are directly or indirectly connected to you.
So, Mr. President, are your local trips actually campaigns?