ICC Note: As the United States enters into its own election season, limiting negative speech might seem like a good idea. Because the law in Myanmar requires that a candidate’s speech be approved by an election commission in coordination with a government ministry, however, this creates a real conflict of interest and the potential for limitations on the freedom of speech.
By Wai Mar Tun
08/28/2015 Myanmar (Radio Free Asia)
Myanmar election authorities on Friday warned political parties competing in November general elections not to use language critical of country’s military or the army-crafted constitution in campaign speeches on state media.
Each of the 93 parties contesting the vote on Nov. 8 will be granted free air time to give 15-minute campaign speeches on state radio and television and have those statements published in state-owned newspapers.
To qualify, however, the parties must submit draft speeches to the Union Election Commission, which will vet them in coordination with the Ministry of Information. Speeches can be rejected for improper content.
Off limits in the speeches are criticism of the armed forces, which have dominated politics in the former British colony since a 1962 coup, and negative remarks about 2008 constitution drafted under the military-junta that guarantees military lawmakers a quarter of legislative seats through appointment.
Leaders of several parties expressed concern about the restrictions, which were also imposed in the 2010 election, which was won by the junta-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in a vote widely condemned as neither free nor fair.
“According to our experiences in previous election, the commission edited our draft speeches, and asked us to change some words,” Than Myint, chairman of the Federal Union Party, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“A few parties had to write new speeches because their first drafts were rejected by the commission. Especially, we can’t use any words against the army,” he said.
Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNLD) Secretary Sai Nyunt Lwin said the policy imposes many prohibitions and restrictions — some of which “restrict rights of free speech.”