Political parties wary of foreign election aid

Pledges of financial assistance by six Western governments and the European Union in the run-up to November’s general elections have left political parties confused over who will benefit and the legality of foreign aid.

A joint statement on March 3 by the EU and six embassies in Yangon said that as “development partners” they would support the country’s efforts to prepare for the elections which they said “will be an important milestone in Myanmar’s transition to democracy and an opportunity to reaffirm to the world its commitment to political reform”.

“Our assistance aims to support and institutionalise the democratic process, and does not support any specific party or candidate,” the statement said, signed by the EU, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the UK and the US.

But it also said that the EU, Norway, Switzerland and the US were providing “capacity-building assistance benefiting political parties” and that “in compliance with Myanmar law, any support to political parties will continue to be offered equitably”.

Some political parties and observers responded that they were unsure whether all elements of the proposed international assistance were acceptable.

U Sai Leik, spokesperson for the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, said his party had received no support and was unsure who was benefiting from the international program.

“We have never accepted any assistance from international donors yet,” he said. For aid to be effective, he said, there had to be transparent meetings between the Union Election Commission, parties and civil society groups. “They should provide assistance based on the results of those meetings,” U Sai Leik said.

U Tun Aung Kyaw, a Pyithu Hluttaw representative and general secretary of Rakine National Party, told The Myanmar Times that parties cannot accept direct international assistance according to the 2008 constitution.

Section 407(c) of the constitution states that parties that “directly or indirectly receiving and expending financial, material and other assistance from a foreign government, a religious association, other association or a person from a foreign country” can be deregistered.

“If the international community wants to support [parties] through the UEC, I know there are no rules and regulations at the UEC [for this]. How would they distribute those assistances to parties? If they want to provide [assistance] through the UEC, it is necessary to write rules and regulations first,” he said.

President U Thein Sein said in his monthly radio address on March 1 that “the first all-inclusive elections to be contested since independence will be held in November”.
They could also be the most closely monitored polls since 1948.

The seven signatories to the pledge of foreign aid said the success of the polls would be measured “by the integrity of the electoral process and an outcome that reflects the will of the people of this country” – an apparent reference to the military junta’s refusal to recognise the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy in 1990 and the party’s decision to boycott the last general elections held in 2010.

A senior diplomat involved in the pledge said it was intended to demonstrate transparency and address concerns that foreign powers would favour one party over another.
“We wanted to be transparent and clarify what kind of support we are giving,” he said, adding that his country would channel its aid through the non-profit International Foundation for Electoral Systems.

The statement laid out five goals of the aid program. These included technical support for the UEC and updating a national voter list; training and deployment of local and international election observers; “capacity building” for “stake-holders” which could include parties; supporting civil society organizations and the media; and encouragement of dialogue on the regulatory framework, organization and management of the electoral process.

Political analyst U Yan Myo Thein said foreign assistance had little impact at the grassroots level where it was needed.

“Mostly parties or civil society groups that are close to the UEC get this aid,” he said. “If the international community really wants to help ensure transparent and credible elections, they should help strengthen grassroots organisations – I mean at the village or town or village-tract levels – because they can be watchdog groups that decide whether the elections are free and fair.”

Source: Myanmar Times

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