Friday, August 18, 2017

From ashes of 1990, Than Lyin party fights to overcome funding constraints

Democratic Party for Myanmar New Society general secretary U Aung Gyi on July 20. Photo: Lwin Maung MaungDemocratic Party for Myanmar New Society general secretary U Aung Gyi on July 20. Photo: Lwin Maung Maung

Funding is the major constraint the Than Lyin township-based Democratic Party for Myanmar New Society faces as it prepares for this year’s election, senior members said last week.

Chairman U Zin Aung said the party believed it had widespread public support but was still short of funds for campaigning, registering candidates and opening branch offices.

“We are operating using our own money and we are not collecting member fees,” U Zin Aung, 52, said on July 20. “The spending power of some of our members is not high; they cannot even afford to take a photo to register as a party member. As a party, that should be our responsibility but we also do not have enough money.”

The scarcity of funds means candidates will have to finance their own campaigns, including registration fees, he said.

“Even though we appreciate their effort, candidates will have to pay for their registration themselves, or get their supporters to pay the fee, because of our party’s financial situation.”

General secretary U Aung Gyi, who was imprisoned for political activities for six years before being released in 2009, said one possible solution to the funding issue was for the government to establish a common fund that all registered parties could draw on if necessary.

“It would be great if there was a common fund like that which would narrow the [funding] differences between parties. Now some parties are financially strong but they do not have support from public, while parties like us are well supported but not financially strong. The government should take responsibility and [through the establishment of a fund] the grassroots level would have a chance to become involved in politics,” said 26-year-old U Aung Gyi, who is U Zin Aung’s son.

The Democratic Party for Myanmar New Society, formally registered on May 27, is loosely based on the Democratic Party for a New Society that registered for the 1990 elections. In the leadup to the vote, many of its members were arrested and party founder Moe Thee Zun presently lives in exile in the United States.

In 2010, the party aims to contest constituencies across the country and so far has opened branches in Hlaing Tharyar, Sanchaung, Yankin, South Okkalapa, Thongwa and Kayan townships in Yangon Division as well as an office in Nay Pyi Taw, with two canvassers in each office signing up members.

“We do not have to take full responsibility for those branches since people from those townships came to us and requested to open an office in their area. [The Democratic Party for a New Society] was the second largest political party after the National League for Democracy in the lead up to the 1990 election and there are old party members all over the nation. Those old party members have contacted us to discuss establishing branch offices,” U Aung Gyi said.

He said he was confident the party can overcome funding issues to be a strong force in the election.

“I strongly believe that the [funding] problem will be solved because we are going to have strong support from the public. We will also have support from our old Central Executive Committee members,” he said.

U Zin Aung said despite having a similar name and many of the same personnel, the Democratic Party for Myanmar New Society’s policies are less confrontational than those of its predecessor.

“In the 1990 election, many parties including [the Democratic Party for a New Society] considered the Nation Unity Party as the common enemy and fought together against the government,” he said. “But in 2008 we decided to discard that policy and reform it to one of national reconciliation and decided to [stop being activists] because we understand political instability makes the country poor and hatred gives nothing to our party or to the citizens. If we carry on with that policy, we will be forced totally underground and in the process lose contact with the public. Once we made that decision, we started organising party members.”