YANGON—Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC) said Saturday that there is no law prohibiting the use of pictures of late national hero General Aung San—the father of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi—in electoral campaigns and thus all parties can use his image.
The use of pictures of national leaders, alive and deceased, in political campaigns has sparked controversy with less than three months to go before the start of this year’s election campaign period.
The main opposition party, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and 29 allied political parties are calling to restrict the use of Gen. Aung San’s image in campaigns for the upcoming general election. They have demanded that a ban on the use of his image be included in the election Code of Conduct (CoC), a voluntary set of rules for political parties and candidates in the upcoming nationwide poll.
The CoC was approved and signed on Friday by 64 parties, including the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD). The USDP and around 20 allied parties didn’t sign the guidelines in protest over the exclusion of their demand.
USDP spokesperson Dr. Nanda Hla Myint said on Saturday that the election commission failed to listen to their voices.
“We requested to restrict all parties [from using Gen. Aung San’s picture] and to allow only campaigning with the parties’ leaders… But our demand was totally neglected,” he said.
Shwe Minn, chairman of the Lisu National Development Party, also said his party didn’t sign the CoC. He said that it is unfair that the NLD is using the image of Gen. Aung San solely to promote their campaigns despite the fact that he is a national hero, and not the party’s leader.
“We agreed to all the rules written in the CoC, but we didn’t sign as our demand is not included,” he said.
The NLD, chaired by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide victory in the last general election in 2015 and formed the first democratically elected government in more than five decades. The former ruling USDP secured around 7 percent of the seats in the Union Parliament in the 2015 election.
Following the signing ceremony for the CoC on Friday, the election commission met on Saturday with chairs and senior leaders of political parties in Yangon to resolve the disputes and objections.
During the meeting, the USDP and its allied parties objected to both the exclusion of their ban on the use of Gen. Aung San’s image as well as the NLD’s use of the term “town elders” in their candidacy selection process. The USDP and its allies claimed the NLD is using the term for the benefit of a single political party when the term concerns the general public. The USDP also suggested to revise the vote counting system, the number of voters allowed per polling station and other election procedures.
Election Commissioner U Myint Naing told reporters during a press conference Saturday that the commission will only carry out procedures as per existing laws and by-laws, responding to the complaints of the USDP and its allies.
He added that existing laws do not prohibit the use of pictures of national leaders in electoral campaigning.
Regarding the objection to the NLD’s use of the term “town elders”, the commissioner said there is no prohibition against the use of the term and all parties can use it.
The NLD has formed candidate selection committees for each township with town elders and the party’s township executive committee members in an attempt to include local communities’ preferences.
USDP spokesperson Dr. Nanda Hla Myint said the election commission is required to listen to the voices of parties in order to earn their trust and needs to collaborate with parties to hold the election successfully.
“Some parties are saying that they don’t trust us. I hereby vow to oversee the election fairly and also urge the parties to try to earn the public’s trust to win the seats,” UEC Chairman U Hla Thein told political parties in his opening remarks at Saturday’s meeting.
Of the 91 parties in the 2015 general election, 22 parties won seats while all the other parties lost in every constituency they contested, according to the UEC. In the upcoming general election, a total of 94 parties will run campaigns for parliamentary seats nationwide.