Kyaw Zwa Moe: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy. From Sept. 8, political parties running for the November election began airing their policies on radio and television. Last week, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) gave their televised campaign speech and on Monday, leader of National League for Democracy (NLD) Daw Aung San Suu Kyi talked about her party platform. This week, we’ll be discussing how the policies of these two big parties differ from each other, to what extent the election can be free and fair, and if the election will run smoothly until the power transfer (to the next government). Ko Aung Moe Zaw, chairman of the Democracy Party for Myanmar New Society, and Irrawaddy Burmese edition editor Thalun Zaung Htet will join me for the discussion. I’m Irrawaddy English editor Kyaw Zwa Moe.
Ko Aung Moe Zaw, the political landscape is very exciting right now. To begin, we would like to assess the policies of these two big rival parties. Last week, when USDP secretary U Tin Naing Thein aired the party’s televised campaign speech, I found a sentence interesting. He said, “Democracy originates with the USDP.” Ko Aung Moe Zaw, you and your party members took part in the pro-democracy activities in 1988 when the military was shooting on the streets and launching a coup. And you founded your party, which also took part in pro-democracy activities, at that time. So how much do you agree what U Tin Naing Thein has said?
Aung Moe Zaw: It is the people who gave birth to democracy in our country. It is the people and the students. Democracy has come into existence on a wide scale in our country as a result of nationwide demands of the people. Before today’s democracy, people had had to struggle—they were jailed, had to live in the jungle away from their parents, and going through severe trauma—almost for three decades. I totally disagree the claim that the USDP is the father of democracy.
KZM: Ko Thalun Zaung Htet, U Tin Naing Thein says the U Thein Sein government introduced democracy after it came into power in the 2010 election. Previously, the government was controlled by the military. How fair is what he said?
Thalun Zaung Htet: (Former) USDP leaders U Htay Oo and U Shwe Mann always said that the 2008 Constitution was drafted by the military and the current democratization process is the consequence of the 2008 Constitution. They always say to let bygones be bygones about 1988, and the democratic gains today are a result of the 2008 Constitution drafted by them. In fact, we are not enjoying the real democracy. We all know that the 2008 Constitution itself has many shortcomings. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said that it is the most rigid law needing change. From their point of view, what they say is right to a certain extent. But from the point of view of democracy, what they say is very wrong.
KZM: Let’s move to Snr-Gen Than Shwe. He was the deputy leader of the regime in 1988. In 1992, he became the top leader. He transferred power and election was held in 2010 according to the regime’s (democracy) road map. But then, nothing could be done if he did not transfer power, so it seems that what USDP claims is correct. What do you think?
AMZ: He had no choice but to transfer power that time. The government and the military leaders of that time had to transfer power for their political survival, to survive.
KZM: By saying survive, you mean to maintain their grip on power?
AMZ: Either to maintain their grip on power or to survive politically, they had to do it. They did it because it was their Hobson’s choice, I think. I don’t think they did it with goodwill for the sake of national development.
KZM: What is your assessment of the policies of the USDP? Which areas do they focus on?
AMZ: They focus on change and peace. I listened to USDP’s televised campaign speech and I understand that they have basically three priorities. They have yet to achieve internal peace and political dialogue. What I understand is that both President U Thein Sein and the USDP are determined to continue working on it. Again, U Shwe Mann, who was widely tipped as a potential presidential candidate, was removed in intra-party purge last month. There must be links between these two cases. I think U Thein Sein is utterly determined that the he or someone else who would continue the process he has initiated should form the next government. NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in her televised campaign speech, talked about building a democratic, federal Union and holding political dialogue. In the case of political dialogue, it has to be held by the next government. I found that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi wants political dialogue to be organized by her own government. It can arouse confrontation and I’m little concerned. Since the ruling party is the current government, it is in a position to give a blow to the NLD, democratic forces, and ethnic forces in the electoral process.
KZM: People and voters in our country are thirsty for change. And most of the parties are campaigning with slogans emphasizing change. The NLD’s slogan says ‘Let’s vote for the NLD for real change’ and the USDP’s slogan says ‘Let’s vote for future development.’ People have a desire for change. Parties know that and are campaigning on that theme. Ko Thalun, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi focused on several areas in her campaign speech regarding change— rule of law, internal peace, constitutional amendment, and establishment of a democratic federal Union. What else did you find interesting?
TZH: She mentioned the role of the military in her speech. She said she and the military are in agreement. Though she says so, in fact the reverse is true. NLD members can’t go to Cocokyun Township (in Rangoon Division) to carry out their campaign. They are not allowed to come by the cantonment there on some excuses. Cocokyun is a cantonment township. No matter how much the military leaders are repeating democratic rhetoric, their actions are clearly different from those of the NLD.
KZM: I think Daw Aung San Suu Kyi honestly believes that nation building, change and democratization is impossible without the involvement of the military. She said she wants to dispel the suspicions between the NLD and the military and establish a federal Union with mutual respect, she said, “Between the military and the NLD.” From the point of view of the military, the military was established even before 1948 and military leaders view the military as the sole, strongest institution that has saved the country. Will the military leaders like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi saying this?
AMZ: The fundamental problem facing our country is that the military is involved in politics. If real changes are to take place, the military has to quit politics.
KZM: It is not possible in reality.
AMZ: Over the past five years, efforts were made to change the Constitution in the parliament within the parliamentary framework. But nothing—
KZM: Nothing could be done.
AMZ: Nothing happened. What is sure is change can’t be made without the agreement of the military in our country. It is the toughest challenge. Personally, I think the military basically needs to cooperate with people. The current leaders are former military leaders. For a long time, everyone has said that those leaders, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders should hold talks and walk together on the path of national reconciliation.
KZM: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly emphasized the importance of free and fair elections. But then she has a greater concern. I would call it a power transition trauma. She might have suffered a political trauma when the military did not transfer power in 1990 election despite her party’s landslide victory. Therefore, in her video message on Sept 8, she said that a peaceful transition is more important than holding a free and fair election. Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, as he met the press on Monday, pledged again that the military would not stage a coup at all, he has no intention to stage a coup at all, that he does not like military takeovers. He said the military has no intention to stage a coup and he himself does not have such intentions. How much people will trust his words, given that the past examples of the refusal to transfer power still casts a shadow?
TZH: I don’t think those words come out of his heart. I think he said so only to ease international pressure, as he was asked if the military would stage a coup again when he visited foreign countries. We don’t know if the military would seize power if NLD won the election.
AMZ: I think the military does not need to seize power. The military does not need to seize power if things go on within the framework of 2008 Constitution. It automatically has power. Again, it has already barred influential people like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president. And, the NLD has to win a landslide.
KZM: They can form a government only if they win a landslide.
AMZ: Only then can they push to form a government. If they don’t win a landslide, there is a problem for them. Ethnic political parties will win in their regions. Under such circumstances, the commander-in-chief has to say what he did. By saying so, he will win the support of international community and people will like him. Even if he does not say so, there is no need for a military coup.
KZM: Ko Aung Moe Zaw, Ko Thalun, thank you for your contributions.