Former political prisoner and popular artist Zayar Thaw is a member of ACID, one of the first bands to bring hip-hop to the youth of Burma. He also co-founded an underground organization known as Generation Wave during the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
On April 1, Zayar Thaw will contest by-elections in Poppha Thiri Township in Mandalay as a candidate representing the National League for Democracy (NLD).
The Irrawaddy reporter Ma Sat Su interviewed Zayar Thaw about his plans for the upcoming election campaign, and striking a balance between art and politics.
Answer: I have had a plan to transform myself from a political activist into a politician for quite a long time now, but I didn’t apply for NLD membership right after my release from prison because I want people, especially non-NLD members, to know that they could support the NLD without obtaining membership status.
When the NLD decided to register as a political party, our leader Aung San Suu Kyi invited me to join the party. Since I already planned to stand as a politician, I became an NLD member. An election is something I have to go through if I stand as a politician and I want to try my best to work for the benefit of people in my country. That’s why I accepted the decision of the NLD Central Committee and its offer to contest the coming by-election.
Q: What kind of preparations have you focused on in preparation for running in a place like Poppha Thiri where the majority of people are loyal to the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)?
A: once we have decided to contest an election we have to go for it no matter where our constituency lies. Those places could be strong bases of the party we represent or they could be weakspots. As long as we maintain confidence, we will have the strength to compete. Those who live in Poppha Thiri include public service personnel, members of the armed forces and members of the police force. Nevertheless, since they are all people living in the same area, I trust that we all have the same hopes, desires and dreams.
Q: How strongly do you believe in the legitimacy of this by-election?
A: Tin Aye, the chairman of the Union Election Commission, pledged that the by-election would be free and fair. The international community has also called on the government to hold the election in a truly free and fair manner, and is observing the situation. Furthermore, the NLD and other contesting parties have called for the same thing from the election. So, I just want to say that people are trying from all the various angles to ensure a free and fair election.
Q: As an artist, what do you see as the relationship between politics and art?
A: I have been involved with politics through my art. I have been to different parts of the country to sing or perform. Whenever I was on such a trip, I was touched by the sentiments, hopes and desires of my audience. I can say that what I felt in my heart from them led me into the political arena and made me deeply interested in politics.
Q: Artists have fans who love and support them. Is that an advantage in politics?
A: Well, when you say 'artists' I think it covers all those from the movie industry, dramatic arts, music, etc. No matter what kind of person they are, whether an artist or otherwise, once that person enters politics they must be measured by the standards of how much they can and will contribute for the good of the people. In general, you may be well-known or popular, but if you cannot really do anything to benefit people I don’t think you will be able to survive in the long run.
Q: What do you want to say about the criticism directed toward you for becoming involved in the by-election as an NLD candidate?
A: I just want to say that this is the core value of democracy. We used to have the idea that everybody should have the same including thoughts and beliefs. Since people are now expressing different opinions, we should gladly welcome them.
Q: If you are elected to Parliament, what can you do for other artists and youths, as well as the general public?
A: As a young person, I don’t want to say that I will do this and that for anyone. I cannot give any promises that I may not be able to keep. But, I just want to assure everyone that I will join hands with the NLD to work for the benefit of our people.
I want to add one more thing here. If I am just considered an artist, I will be put into a different class. Whether we are artists, public service personnel or members of the armed forces, we are all children of our people. So, instead of focusing on a specific class, I prefer to work for the benefit of the entire people of Burma.
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