Myanmar's Suu Kyi rebukes MPs over election expenses

Aung San Suu Kyi has rebuked some politicians from her victorious National League for Democracy.
Aung San Suu Kyi has rebuked some politicians from her victorious National League for Democracy.PHOTO: EPA

NAYPYITAW (Reuters) - Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi has rebuked some politicians from her victorious National League for Democracy (NLD) for exceeding an internal election spending limit amid worries the beaten ruling party may seek to challenge poll results, an NLD source said.

In private meetings with her advisers and lawmakers, the pro-democracy champion also warned party auditors to carefully scrutinise its campaign reports before they were submitted to the election commission.

The tension in the winning camp followed local media reports saying the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which was crushed at the polls, may apply for dozens of NLD candidates to be disqualified for spending too much on their campaigns.

Though it appears that Suu Kyi's candidates at worst transgressed an internal party limit set at 5 million kyat(S$5,480) - half of the official ceiling - the issue could enable the USDP to pick off some of her talent before the official results are declared. "She scolded some of the people who said they went over 5 million kyat," said a senior member of the NLD present at the meetings, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meetings were private. "We've won by a landslide and we don't want to give the ruling camp any excuse to strip us of our firepower in the parliament."

Suu Kyi's sensitivity over the issue highlights a deep-seated lack of trust between her people and the establishment, even after President Thein Sein and the powerful army chief Min Aung Hlaing both said they would respect the result of the election.

The former democratic activists and political prisoners in her party are still traumatised by the memories of the 1990 election, when several NLD candidates were disqualified for overspending. The NLD won that election by a landslide, but the junta ignored the results and kept Suu Kyi confined under house arrest.

"Special Branch and surveillance teams followed us everywhere and photographed everything," said the NLD official, referring to monitoring of this month's election by the feared information-gathering department of the police force. "We have to be accountable for every litre of gasoline that we spent and every election truck that we sent on the trail. They can come up with evidence."

International observers have highlighted shortcomings of Myanmar's general election, but have largely praised it as peaceful and credible.

LONG TRANSITION

The NLD official described how the party debated how to divide up expenses between lawmakers for expensive helicopter trips to remote areas affected by recent floods such as Chin State - a far-flung strip on the western edge of the country.

Candidates have a month to file election expenses and 45 days to lodge an official complaint against other candidates. Any candidate lodging a complaint has to present evidence of fraud and pay a fee of about $390.

To be sure, the process is lengthy and the NLD's win so large that even the disqualification of several lawmakers would be unlikely to strip it of the absolute majority it won in both chambers, which gives it the power to choose the next president. "Our headquarters has not filed any complaints as yet concerning the overspending by candidates in the election campaign," said a senior staff member at the USDP headquarters in the capital, Naypyitaw.

Earlier reports in domestic media, quoting a senior party official, put the number of possible complaints at around 100.

While the election took place on Nov. 8, Myanmar has barely started a long period in which the power will be transferred from the USDP to the NLD. The outgoing, USDP-dominated parliament will sit until January and decide on the budget to be implemented by Suu Kyi during her first year in power.

The new parliament will only convene in February and the president will be chosen by both chambers of the parliament in March. It will then form the government by the end of March - more than four months from now.

With election results still trickling in from the remotest parts of the country, the election commission says it has not yet received any formal complaints. "The candidates are allowed to file complaints on each other if they think that they did not lose fairly in the election, but no one has filed a complaint so far," Khin Zaw Tun, an official at the Yangon Region election commission, one of the largest regional bodies in the country, told Reuters.

Officials at the commission headquarters in Naypyitaw also said they were not aware of any formal complaints.