The Irrawaddy Burma Election 2010

Home Analysis Unveiled: the Regime's Shiny New Car

Unveiled: the Regime's Shiny New Car

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Introducing the USDP—a new political vehicle, powered by a hybrid engine of the SPDC and the USDA.

The military government of Burma introduced a new political vehicle on Thursday. It is a shiny new model powered by a hybrid engine—a combination of the trusty old combustion engine known as the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC, and a modern new motor that has been dubbed the Union Solidarity and Development Party, or USDP.

However, if we chip away at the shiny paintwork on this new political vehicle, we will soon see how rusty the bodywork is.


Kyaw Zwa Moe is managing editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Burma's Prime Minister Thein Sein, along with 26 other ministers and high-ranking officials, on Thursday resigned from his military post to register the USDP as a new political party on the ballot—one that will expect to win this year's general election.

The writing was on the wall on April 28 when state-run newspapers began referring to the prime minister as “U Thein Sein,” using the Burmese honorific term instead of “General Thein Sein,” as they previously had. The state media also began using the honorific “U” for the other ministers.

The prime minister's new party, the USDP, is born out of the junta's civic group, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, the USDA, which was formed in 1993.

Thein Sein was among the members of the Central Panel of Patrons of the USDA along with junta supremo Snr-Gen Than Shwe. The 26 other ministers and officials joining Thein Sein on the new party ticket have also been central executive committee members and secretariat within the USDA.

In any case, the entire charade is to package the military regime into a formidable political movement ahead of the election. It will campaign heavily and the acronym USDP will become synonymous with the regime months before it forges a victory in the election.

If Thein Sein were to be interviewed and asked the aims and objectives of his new party, his honest answers would be succinct: Aim: to win the election. Objective: to legally institutionalize the military into the political structure of the country for the foreseeable future.

The USDP's immediate goal will be to avoid a repeat of the military's mistake in 1990 when it inadvertently allowed the opposition to win the election. At that time, the generals endorsed the National Unity Party (NUP)—the offspring of late dictator Gen Ne Win's Burma Socialist Programme Party, which was overthrown in the 1988 uprising after an iron-fist rule for 26 years.

Expecting the NUP to win the hearts and minds of the Burmese population, the regime allowed a free and fair election, only to be swept aside by an NLD landslide when Aung San Suu Kyi's party won over 80 percent of the votes.

Of course, the NLD was never allowed to assume power and the regime learned not to trust its own citizens.

Twenty years later, the people of Burma are still looking at the same old vehicle, but it has been modified and repainted for sale to the public. If we take a look under the hood, we'll see exactly what makes this hybrid engine tick.

First of all, the 2008 constitution guarantees the ruling military regime 25 percent of parliamentary seats even before voting begins. There will therefore be a military green presence in both the upper and lower houses whatever happens.

We can safely assume the USDP will have full access to all the financial and human resources of the USDA. The USDA says it has about 24 million members (most of whom were forcibly recruited) and has access to as much campaign finance as it needs.

In constituencies all over the country, few parties, if any, will be able to compete with the USDP's candidates. The USDP will contest seats nationwide and it will be by far the most visible name in the press, on TV, in the streets, in town halls, and in public gatherings.

In constituencies where the USDP is expected to lose, such as in ethnic regions, the USDP can work alongside the military to ensure that voter intimidation, ballot box fixing, pre-marked ballots and other forms of electoral fraud ensure the result goes its way.

Although no date has been set for the general election, a winner has.

Such is that certainty, Thein Sein may well be sitting down right down to discuss the appointments for his new Cabinet.

The regime's shiny new political vehicle may just be a rust-bucket of old parts, but without any other traffic in its way it will surely be able to cross the finishing line first.



Nyan_win80"Once her [Aung San Suu Kyi's] sentence expires in November, and that notion is not disputed, it is our understanding that she will have served her sentence."
—Nyan Win, the foreign minister of Burma


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