NLD Missteps and What They Would Herald for 2020 Election

By The Irrawadddy 6 June 2020

Kyaw Zwa Moe: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! We can see that the leader of the Myanmar government and the National League for Democracy (NLD) Daw Aung San Suu Kyi continues to win the respect and support of the majority of the people. But at the same time, most of the people are frustrated due to wrong comments and actions and the inability of some cabinet members, ministers and chief ministers who she appointed. The next general election is due to be held this year, and it can be said that this year is the last year of the NLD government’s term.

I will discuss with NLD Central Information Unit Secretary Monywa Aung Shin why the party could not get the right people in the right places over the past four years and whether the party will ever be able to get the right people in the right places and continue to enjoy popularity, and to what extent people will show patience. I am The Irrawaddy English editor Kyaw Zwa Moe.

It is now June 2020 and Myanmar is experiencing COVID-19 cases but the numbers are declining. The election is scheduled to be held in November 2020. How will the NLD be doing by then? My assessment is that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is still very popular with the people. But some individuals, including the ministers she chose, have disappointed the citizens. Party officials, including you, have said that in the 2020 election, the NLD may not achieve as large a landslide victory as it did in 2015 but may win enough seats to form the government. This should be largely because of the weakness of the NLD government and problems created by the ministers and chief ministers, I believe. What is your assessment of the current situation and expectations for the coming election for the existing cabinet of the NLD?

Monywa Aung Shin: For the time being, I think the party is giving priority to selecting candidates for the election. The executive committees of township chapters select the candidates, and the lists of nominees are then submitted to relevant region and state-level chapters, and then to the Central Executive Committee (CEC). I mean the CEC is the key and makes the final decision in selecting candidates.

KZM: There might have been weaknesses in selecting candidates in the 2015 election, and I had heard of the same problems in the 1990 election. Some also say that some lawmakers fail to perform their duties. Do you think good candidates can be chosen this time?

MAS: We will try our best. We know that the consequences we are seeing today are due to the weakness in selecting candidates in 2015. I don’t want to say who made the selection. It is done now. It is true that there was weakness. Due to its impacts, we can’t win the public’s approval over the past four years. People are not satisfied with lawmakers and cabinet members including Union ministers, chief ministers and ministers of region and state governments. We guess that they did not win the public’s approval. We have a research committee tasked with surveying public satisfaction regarding the cabinet members.

KZM: What did the research committee find out?

MAS: As everyone is saying, there are a lot of weaknesses. I am embarrassed to reveal the details.

KZM: The NLD’s popularity with the people has declined five years into its administration. It is partly due to the cabinet members chosen by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as well as the policies of the government. The government was unable to push for peace in ethnic-majority areas or make charter amendments. But charter reform is difficult and needs a lot of negotiation with the military leadership. So, setting this aside, ministers and chief ministers apparently are not able to fully perform their duties.

MAS: Yes, there are a lot.

KZM: There are 24 ministries at the Union level in our country and 14 chief ministers in regions and states, totaling 38 individuals. So my question is, can’t the NLD find 38 good options, internally or from outside?

There were problems when the NLD started to choose ministers in 2015, 2016. There were media reports about those issues. Former finance and planning minister U Kyaw Win described himself as a PhD degree holder in his CV. He himself confessed that it was a fake doctoral degree—after it was exposed. It was widely covered in the media and drew widespread criticisms. But why did the party keep someone, who made a false statement on his CV, in his ministerial position and why did [the NLD] fail to handle it earlier? He was only dismissed on corruption charges after two years—so two years were wasted.

There were also similar things, say, the case of the Yangon chief minister most recently. He violated the government’s ban on mass gatherings. The party CEC issued a warning to him and the President’s Office asked him to explain. This is just one of the cases. Why couldn’t Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or the NLD fix these things over the past four years? The question is why can’t the party replace the officials who have been the subject of widespread complaints?

MAS: It is a good question, but also tough too. Personally, I know well about selecting candidates for election but I don’t know much about the appointment of cabinet members. They are mainly chosen by our leaders. They are, I think, nominated by certain groups.

KZM: I heard that it was the intellectuals or think tank of the NLD that nominated ministers.

MAS: It was not like that. There is a Central Economic Committee in the NLD. Some economic officials, but not all, were appointed based on recommendations of that committee. As far as I know, the final decision was made by the party leadership, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the president. I don’t know what criteria they used in the selection.

KZM: Yes, it would be better to get this question answered by them. Some got the positions because [the party leadership] didn’t know them well. But [the party leadership] should know them after one or two years.

MAS: Yes, by that time, they should have clear understanding of their capacity.

KZM: Some ministers and chief ministers have not worked much while some, far from working hard, have even made the people disappointed. Some ministers have also made inappropriate remarks, so people are frustrated. They are apparently tarnishing the image of the NLD. Why did the NLD or the NLD-led government not fix these issues quickly, in line with the interests of the people? This is the question people want to ask, and it has led to frustration. People say the NLD may not repeat the same electoral victory of 2015 due to the facts I have mentioned. How would you fix it in the months to come?

MAS: As I have said, we have to try a lot. The main driving force of the party is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The party is driven by her. We may not win the landslide victory like we did in 2015 as you said. But to make an assessment, based on the COVID-19 response of the government and activities of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, I believe we will secure an electoral victory close to that in 2015. There is frustration with lawmakers and cabinet members. But their shortcomings will be compensated for by activities of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and others.

KZM: Yes, there might be capable officials and the majority still supports the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But as a major party, it failed to create harmony with ethnic groups. NLD leaders have confessed that they need to fix this, but I think it is a bit late.

MAS: The party is not yet ready for it.

KZM: If so, distrust among ethnic people of the NLD as a Bamar party will only grow in ethnic areas.

MAS: Yes, it is true, especially in Rakhine and Shan states. The situation is comparatively better in Kachin State. We have to try a lot [to win the election] in northern Rakhine as well as in northern Shan State though it is likely that we can win some seats in southern and eastern Shan State, according to our research. Even if we lose in some [Bamar-majority] regions, it will only be a few seats. According to our survey, we are likely to win in some constituencies which we lost in the 2015 election.

KZM: In 2015, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi urged voters to cast votes for her party without considering the capacity of party candidates. Then people only chose between pro-democracy parties on one side and parties that are against democracy on the other. But now, it appears that voters will weigh the capacities of candidates this time. Only then will it be fair. Though a party is a pro-democracy party, if its candidate is incapable or runs in the election just for personal interests, voters will not vote for him. What policy will the NLD apply in this year’s election? Will it continue to say just “vote for the party”?

MAS: I would like to explain about it. We contested the 2015 election based on the slogan “don’t look at the person but the party.” As we had to hurry, we were not able to conduct campaigns systematically. So we adopted that slogan and won the victory. The second party conference was held in 2018 and the central committee meeting was held the following year. I noticed that the CEC raised questions about it at those two meetings: the report of the CEC said the strategy of “don’t look at the person but the party” is no longer practical. It called for reviewing it. But we also can’t neglect the party. It is the foundation. My view is that people will continue to support the NLD. But then, our party has a responsibility to choose the right people for the right places, for the sake of people.

KZM: But, the right people aren’t in the right places.

MAS: Yes, they are not. There are many who are not in the right places. It is from the weaknesses of lawmakers. Some local governments still can’t settle land confiscation disputes in their regions. There are still complaints about land disputes. And there are also corruption cases.

KZM: It appears that people are satisfied that the NLD and the Anti-Corruption Commission have taken legal action against former Tanintharyi Region chief minister Daw Lei Lei Maw. But as I’ve said, since the wrong people were chosen, there were problems along the way. It is good that action was taken against her, but there are many other cases.

MAS: Yes, many go unpunished.

KZM: People know about those cases, but can’t action be taken against [the perpetrators]?

MAS: As far as I know, some cases are even known by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

KZM: Yes, that is the point. Even ordinary people know about it. So, they ask why such disreputable and incapable high-ranking officials, either ministers or chief ministers, can’t be replaced? They wonder if it is because the NLD is short on capable individuals.

MAS: It is not because the party is short of capable individuals. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi might have her norms around the choices she has made. I think she has chosen the ex-officials of the former government for her cabinet so that her party members can gain experience from them and the administration can function smoothly. This is why only a few from our party are involved in the administration.

KZM: But, voters cast votes for the NLD because they like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership. So they may accept anyone she appoints, but if the appointee can do nothing after some time, she might need to review [the appointment]. This is the question people are asking.

MAS: Yes, we know. The election is just months away, and [the NLD leadership] might think they will just let the ministers complete their term.

KZM: It can be said that people are extremely patient. They have tolerated this for more than four years. The responsibility falls on government leaders and leaders of the party elected by the people.

MAS: The party leadership is mainly responsible.

KZM: I am afraid people will not show patience next time.

MAS: There is a saying “people don’t tolerate twice.” They will tolerate for small issues, but not big ones.

KZM: The government should be responsible and accountable.

MAS: Yes, it is.

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