Nay Myo Aung, the MP-elect from the Union Solidarity and Development Party. (Credit: Myo Myo/Twitter)
YANGON - A National League for Democracy (NLD) candidate who lost his bid for a seat during this month’s by-elections has filed a complaint to the police accusing his opponent of bribing voters in a constituency in downtown Yangon.
In the months leading up to the November 3 poll, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) candidate for Seikkan township helped voters to secure micro-loans from an obscure company that has a USDP party official on its board of directors.
Myanmar Now revealed last week on its Myanmar language edition that more than 100 residents in the constituency had received loans of up to 60,000 kyat in August and September, with several constituents saying they had not had to make any repayments yet.
If USDP MP-elect Nay Myo Aung is found guilty he faces up to a year in prison. The election result would also be annulled.
The constituency has some 3,000 residents, around 1,500 of whom were eligible to vote in the by-election. Nay Myo Aung won the seat with 515 votes, only 150 more than the NLD’s Than Htike Aung received.
Several Seikkan constituents told Myanmar Now that USDP candidate Nay Myo Aung personally encouraged them to take out loans with May Htut, a company registered in 2015 and which, according to company registration documents, conducts “all kinds of businesses”.
Nay Myo Aung told Myanmar Now he had no intention of swaying votes with the loans and was acting “in the public interest”. And constituents made clear that they were not told to vote for the USDP when they received the loans.
The allegation of bribery raises concerns about Myanmar’s ability to hold clean elections just three years after a historic poll that was declared the freest and fairest in decades.
The NLD won 7 of the 13 vacant seats on November 3; the military-backed USDP got three and the rest went to ethnic political parties.
Although it did not alter the balance of power, the result was considered a wake-up call for the NLD, which said it would develop a strategy for each of the seats it lost before the 2020 general election.
‘No repayments yet’
Soe Mya Mya Htwe, who runs a roadside snack shop near a Buddhist ordination hall in Seikkan, said that she applied for a loan with Nay Myo Aung’s help.
After she gave her fingerprints on a form at the USDP’s local party office, she recieved a booklet from May Htut that explained she would have to make regular repayments.
But, she said, when it came time to pay her first installment, “they told me not to do that yet.”
Another woman, Moe Moe Aye, who sells paratha in front of the USDP office in Seikkan, said she received a loan in August inside that USDP office, where she witnessed others picking up loan application forms.
“Others who give this kind of small loan would require you to repay it on a monthly basis. But in this case, I haven’t paid back the loan or the interest for the past two months,” she told Myanmar Now.
“I am quite thankful to U Nay Myo Aung. Since most of us are government servants, we are usually broke by the middle of the month. This loan provided us with some relief,” said Hla Hla Than, a resident of Seikkan.
“I voted for the NLD in the 2015 elections, but the elected MP never cared for us,” she added.
‘Just asked for help’
One of May Htut’s directors is Lin Aung Aung, the chairman of the USDP’s party office in Shwepyithar township, on Yangon’s outskirts.
When Myanmar Now visited the company’s office on Hlawgarzay Street in Shwepyithar township last week, Lin Aung Aung said the company had only recently expanded its lending business in Seikkan, where it issued over 100 loans since August.
He added that the expansion was the result of a request by Nay Myo Aung’s campaign manager, Toe Toe Lwin.
She approached Lin Aung Aung a few months before the by-election and said she would act as the guarantor for any borrowers who signed up in Seikkan, he said. “They just asked me to help, that’s how it came about.”
Toe Toe Lwin denied any involvement in the scheme. She had heard that a company was offering loans recently but it had “no relation” to her, she told Myanmar Now.
Toe Toe Lwin and Lin Aung Aung are both named as alleged accomplices in the complaint submitted to police on Sunday.
Than Htike Aung’s campaign manager, Ye Min Thein, filed the case under Article 58a of the State and Regional Electoral Law, which forbids candidates from giving food, money or job opportunities in exchange for votes and carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison.
Nay Myo Aung, the lawmaker-elect in Seikkan, said he played a broker’s role between the May Htut company and the residents in his constituency, but he had no intention of using the loans to sway voters.
“I contacted a number of companies so that people in my area could get this kind of loan, but it finally worked out with May Htut,” he told Myanmar Now. “I was just a broker acting in the public interest.”
As a former member of parliament for this constituency, he was keenly aware of the financial difficulties people face in the area, he added, and so he introduced the May Htut company to them because it charges a low interest rate on loans.
He also carried out other public interest initiatives during the five months leading up to the elections, he said, such as managing a free medical clinic at the local party office and distributing free school textbooks.
“The loan scheme was not the most important factor,” in his election victory, he added. “I was just thinking of how I can help the public.”
Nandar Hla Myint, a spokesperson for the USDP, said the party was not involved in the loan scheme and suggested it was a personal initiative of Nay Myo Aung.
Ye Min Thein, the NLD candidate’s campaign manager, said he filed the complaint "to ensure free and fair elections that meet democratic standards."
(Editing by Joshua Carroll)