Parting with the Past
covering burma and southeast asia
Wednesday, February 20, 2019


Parting with the Past



Than Nyein, Chairman of the National Democratic Front.(Photo: THE IRRAWADDY)
The two parties that dominated Burma’s last election in 1990—the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD)—have both been forcibly disbanded for refusing to take part in this year’s polls. However, their demise as officially recognized political organizations has given rise to two new parties: the National Democratic Force (NDF), whose chairman, Than Nyein, is a former NLD central executive committee member, and the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), headed by Sai Aik Pao, formerly of the SNLD.
The Irrawaddy recently spoke with both men and found them more focused on the challenges of the present than the injustices of the past. But they also remain committed to resolving the issue of Burma’s more than 2,000 political prisoners, whose fate continues to cast a shadow over an election that the regime hopes will erase memories of its past electoral humiliation.

Than Nyein: “National Reconciliation is Essential”

Question: What challenges do you face in the election?

Answer: There are many limitations. As the election is to be held within this year, we will have very little time for campaigning. Another one is financial constraints. Candidate fees are [US $500], much higher than they were in the last election, and it is very difficult to find funding.

Another problem is the media. We have not received fair treatment. We have been interviewed many times by the domestic media, but much of what we said was censored, and some media have even rejected us. We have relied on the domestic media to reach out to people, but it has not been as effective as we expected.

Q:  Will the NDF only contest the election in some areas?

A:  We still can’t say exactly where we will contest and don’t know which other parties will contest where. We can’t work equally in all areas throughout the country. We don’t have enough candidates. The strength of local support for our political course is more important than anything we can do, so we will contest the election in areas where our supporters can work efficiently.

Q:  What do you think of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)?

A:  It is not very nice to see that incumbent ministers are currently involved in the USDP. What we want is a fair competition for the open seats with equal participation by all. That’s how it should be if we are genuinely marching towards democracy.

Q:  Does the NDF have any plan to form an alliance?

A:  I think it would be pretty difficult to form an alliance, since we don’t have much time left. In principle, we would prefer not to compete directly with political parties that have a genuine will to create a true democratic Burma, so we will try to consult with them as much as we can in the time we have left.

Q:  Which ethnic parties do you think you might cooperate with?

A:  Our position on ethnic parties will be different from that of the NLD in the 1990 election. What I mean is that we don’t have any plan to heavily compete against ethnic parties in different states and ethnic-controlled territories. Of course, exceptions exist in some places. In such cases, we will ask our members there to consult and cooperate with pro-democracy and ethnic parties focusing on those areas.

Q:  What is your position on national reconciliation?

A:  National reconciliation is the main issue and it is an essential part of our party’s policy.

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