Bribery alleged in local Myanmar by-election: report

A voter checks the voters’ list at a polling station in Yangon on November 3, 2018. – Myanmar voters cast their ballots in a small but key by-election on November 3, 2018, a rare local test of support for embattled leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party more than halfway through her time in office. (Photo by Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

The newly elected MP for Yangon’s Seikkan district facilitated loans with suspiciously favorable terms for would-be voters in the months leading up to the Nov. 3 by-election, an explosive new report in local digital outlet Myanmar Now alleges.

Observers at the time were surprised by what was considered a major upset in a district widely considered to be a lock for the NLD.

U Nay Myo Aung, the candidate of the military-connected USDP, managed to win by about 150 votes in a race that saw just over 1,000 ballots cast.

“With 50% of your faith in the party and 50% of your faith in me, I organized and worked hard for this victory,” he said immediately after his win.

But just two weeks later, the Burmese-language outlet has concluded that the then-candidate connected numerous residents of the district with a loan company owned by a USDP party apparatchik in the lead-up to the election.

Documents obtained by the outlet, show that May Htut, the lending company in question, provided a total of 100 lakhs ($62,517.58) in low-interest loans to more than a hundred Seikkan residents, at an interest rate of just 2.5 kyats per month.

May Htut was founded in 2015 by U Lin Aung Aung, the USDP president in Yangon’s Shwepyithar township, and provides loans to a largely low-income clientele.

But many of the loans made to potential Seikkan voters saw their repayments deferred in the lead-up to the poll, according to sources who spoke to the outlet.

“Even though it was time to pay, they told us we didn’t need to at the time,” said Soe Mya Mya Htwe, a roadside restaurant owner located in front of the USDP office.

Toe Toe Lwin, the Seikkan constituency treasurer and by-election representative for U Nay Myo Aung, the newly elected MP, told Myanmar Now that she was responsible for facilitating the loans.

“They asked for my help. That’s why I got involved.”

In fact, numerous voters who took out loans stated that it was Daw Toe Toe Lwin who provided the paperwork for their loans.

But when pressed with specific allegations regarding May Htut’s potential influence on the by-election, however, she then appears to backtrack and deny even basic knowledge of the situation.

“I’ve heard that the company [May Htut] loaned money in this area, but this is not related to us. We weren’t a part of that loaning business,” she said.

For his part, newly elected MP U Nay Myo Aung, said he had no knowledge of the loan company’s actions aside from “connecting” them with would-be constituents.

“I don’t know if [voters] were loaned money. I was only trying to help the people in my constituency. The company was the one loaning money; I was trying to make the lives of my constituents easier. I just helped connect them,” he told the digital outlet.

A USDP spokesperson, U Nandar La Myint, also went on the record, distancing his party from any suggestion of a connection between the loans and votes.

“The candidates are working hard in their own honest way,” he told the outlet. “I’m sure that the party didn’t loan any money. Our party isn’t pursuing this as policy. We didn’t loan any money.”

Ko Saing Ye Kyaw Swa Myint, director of the People’s Alliance for Credible Election (PACE), an election observer organization, told Myanmar Now that the facts about this case must be brought to light before the 2020 elections.

“If there are gaps in the law that allow this type of behavior, we must prepare accordingly before 2020.”

At least one Seikkan voter, Ma La Yin Tan, insisted to the outlet that her vote for the USDP — she’d previously been an NLD supporter — and loan were unconnected.

“I am grateful to them. We are working from hand to mouth and we run out of money by mid-month. We are able to make ends meet because there are people who are willing to lend us money,” she said.

“The NLD doesn’t care about the people’s needs. The people we elected won’t even come and see what we need.”

Still, she’ll have to pay up eventually, said May Htut director Lin Aung Aung.

“In hindsight, we should have collected. We’re working towards collecting the payments now,” he told Myanmar Now, cryptically adding that he was fearful there would be problems if he asked for loan payments during the by-election.

 

 

 

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