Coloring Between the Lines
covering burma and southeast asia
Thursday, November 15, 2018


Coloring Between the Lines


Ethnic Mon girls attend the opening ceremony of the Union Solidarity and Development Party Mandalay Division branch office. (Photo: Reuters)
(Page 2 of 2)

The CPP will have 41 candidates contesting in almost every constituency in Chin State, while the AMRDP will field 33.

These numbers are dwarfed by the more than 1,100 candidates that the USDP plans to field, contesting in virtually every one of the 1,163 seats in the national and regional parliaments, excluding the 25 percent of seats reserved for military appointees. The NUP, which suffered an overwhelming defeat in the 1990 election, will run 999 candidates, while the NDF will field 163 candidates, mainly in Rangoon and Mandalay divisions.

While the odds of non-regime-supported parties actually winning seats are very small, simply reaching the stage where they will be able to compete can be seen as a major accomplishment given the highly opaque process by which parties were approved by the EC. Many parties have not gotten this far, for reasons that have gone largely unexplained. 

Notably absent from the list of parties running in the election is the Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP), founded by Tu Ja, the former vice chairman of the cease-fire Kachin Independence Army (KIA), who was also denied an opportunity to run as an independent candidate. Two other Kachin parties—the Northern Shan State Progressive Party and the United Democracy Party (Kachin State)—were similarly shut out of the election.

“We feel upset. We feel that we’re not getting equal rights. There is no equality,” said KSPP Secretary Tu Raw, responding to the EC’s repeated refusal to provide any explanation for rejecting the party. 

However, to ensure that Kachins have someone to vote for if they decline to cast ballots for parties dominated by ethnic Burmans, the EC has approved the Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State, led by pro-regime Kachin businessman Khat Htain Nan, who was quick to announce that his party would be willing to “form an alliance with others parties if we share the same policies, commitment and determination—with any kind of party, such as the USDP and NUP.”

A cursory look at many of the other ethnic parties that won EC approval reveals a similar orientation. The AMRDP, for instance, is chaired by Nai Ngwe Thein, a Mon professor and former civil servant with close ties to the Burmese authorities.

According to Aye Thar Aung, a prominent Rangoon-based ethnic Arakanese politician, the problem is not just with the EC, but with the entire process leading up to the election, beginning with the National Convention that took more than a decade to draft the 2008 Constitution.

“The Constitution will not protect the rights of Burma’s ethnic minorities. That’s why we are saying that the election will grant no rights for ethnic people,” said Aye Thar Aung, who is the chairman of the Arakanese League for Democracy (ALD) and secretary of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament, a body formed in 1998 to push for recognition of the 1990 election results.

Like most parties that ran in 1990 and were never allowed to sit in parliament, the ALD has been officially disbanded for refusing to take part in this year’s election. By thus eliminating credible voices for the country’s ethnic minorities, the regime has effectively given them no choice but to accept junta proxy parties or take their chances on ethnic-affiliated parties that are, as often as not,  tainted by ties to the ruling generals.  

More ominously, the threat of a return to open hostilities between the Burmese army and ethnic cease-fire groups that have refused to join the border guard force scheme continues to hang over Burma’s predominantly ethnic areas. While a handful of smaller ethnic armies have acceded to the plan, the strongest cease-fire groups—the KIA and the United Wa State Army, based in northern and eastern Shan State—have refused to transform their troops into forces under Burmese command.

While some ethnic leaders maintain that the election will finally give their people a long-awaited opportunity to find representation in Burma’s political affairs, others are understandably doubtful that this will happen, at least in the near term.

“Even if they win some constituencies, they will still be controlled by the Burmese regime,” said Zipporah Sein, the secretary-general of the KNU.

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