In Leadup to Nation’s First Elections Since 1990, Campaigns Barely Register
In Burma’s former capital, independent candidate Yan Kyaw barks into a microphone on a busy street. “Come out without fear to vote on Nov. 7,” he says, one arm resting on a van topped with giant black speakers.
But few people pay attention. Only a foreigner and his friends are watching, as well as two plainclothes policemen.
Across the city, a few billboards can be seen featuring stern-faced pro-military candidates.
State-run TV is broadcasting 15 minutes of ad time for each party.
And local newspapers are printing page-one pieces on the polls.
But outside Rangoon, there is little evidence that the first elections in 20 years are about to take place.
In tea shops, people smoke cheroots and play chess.
They watch football on TV, not political ads. They talk about the lottery numbers, not the candidates.
“We don’t see much campaign activity here,” said Min Naing, 28, in Mandalay. “Only pamphlets are being distributed.”
In a suburb of Rangoon, residents confessed they had no idea who the candidates are. “People are more interested in the weather than the elections,” a newspaper vendor said.
A professional cartoonist said he had no plans to vote, and did not know the names of the parties who were running.
In Mon state in eastern Burma, there were no campaign signs or billboards on major streets.
“People are not interested in this election because they know there will be no changes,” said Maung Maung, 52, who runs a food shop in Moulmein, the state capital.Moulmein residents had never seen one local candidate, but said they had heard his voice on the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma radio.
“It’s not like the elections in 1990,” said Naing Aye Chan, 31, who lives on the border between the Karen and Mon states.
“I was in sixth grade then, and I still remember the NLD’s campaign in our village. People knew what to do. It’s not like that now. There’s no campaign at all, as if there were no elections.”
Political parties are hampered by limited coffers and severe campaign restrictions.
Public rallies need to be approved a week in advance and all political propaganda must be pre-approved by strict censors.
Overall, candidates like Yan Kyaw are a rare sight.
“Our party has limited time, limited funds and limited manpower for the campaign,” said Myat Nyarna Soe, general secretary for the Rangoon branch of the main opposition party, the National Democratic Front, which formed after the NLD decided to boycott.