Kyaw Zwa Moe: Welcome to this week’s Dateline. This week we’ve invited young candidates who are contesting the coming election. Ko Aung Naing Tun will run for a seat in Rangoon Division Parliament from Thanlyin Township for the National League for Democracy (NLD). Ma Htoo May will run for the Upper House of Union Parliament from Ann and Ramree townships, representing the Arakan National Party. We will discuss the hopes of young candidates and how they will endeavor to bring change to their constituencies and the country. I am Kyaw Zwa Moe, editor of The Irrawaddy’s English edition.
We’ve found a lot of young candidates are running in the coming poll. First, in an election that will have decisive consequences for our country, how excited are you to be participating?
Htoo May: The power of youth can’t be ignored in our endeavors for national development, so I am certainly excited. Young people are active, energetic, insightful and creative. The power of youth will contribute greatly to the country in bringing about sweeping changes. For a long time, we’ve lost the right to have a say and be represented. Therefore, the duty has fallen on our shoulders to help young people have a say, to represent them and rejuvenate our old, ragged country with new visions and ideas and bring about changes. Myanmar was once a developed economy in Southeast Asia. But, we’ve had no democracy for ages and our country has been held back. The young fell victim to a system and an era. How will we make the move to turn ourselves from victims to leaders? It is exciting to take part in this transition for the first time. We are taking the advantage of political awareness of the youth in Myanmar to introduce changes to the country.
KZM: Ko Aung Naing Tun, the young were ignored for a long time, especially under military rule. What kind of bigger changes do you expect to see as a result of youth participation in politics?
Aung Naing Tun: To what extent have people had trust in the young? This is a counter-question to ask. At present, we still can’t show people how much work the youth have done. But then, it is the youth who have taken the lead role in every change in the country’s history, and therefore, no doubt people will cast a vote for us and we are anticipating it with excitement.
KZM: We know that the NLD as well as other parties are fielding larger number of young candidates, compared to previous elections. What are the challenges? Ma Htoo May, you have to contest with a deputy minister from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). What are the differences in voter’s attitudes toward those old candidates and young candidates like you? What are the difficulties?
HM: They are financially stronger and they are in power. They have fear. But, people will love us.
KZM: Why do they have fear?
HM: They are afraid that they might be harmed as the country changes.
KZM: Because they have done wrong in the past?
HM: People will know more about this. People will love us because we want change; we want to change the entire system. Regarding the challenges, I face challenge in terms of (campaign) time limits. The ruling party has money and has ruled for a long time. People view them as those who have come from the military administration. But, people also view us as the new generation who will shape democracy. They want to make changes with new faces.
KZM: Our country was under military rule from 1962 until 2010. But then, the Thein Sein government, which emerged after 2010, is comprised of ex-generals. There has hardly been a real change. What do you think is the most important change to make in your constituency if you win?
HM: The first thing that needs to be done is to ensure a secure livelihood for people in this country and my constituency. When I was young, I moved to Yangon. My mother said it was for a better education. We moved to the mainland to have access to a better education. Like us, other people have moved, and the population has dropped in our region. It is a very big challenge. To raise human capital is the most difficult thing to do, I think. Economic reforms may bear benefits in five years, but it might take a very long time to raise human capital. Therefore, to ensure a secure livelihood for people in our region is very practical and is an imperative. For this to happen, rule of law is a necessary precondition. We need to make sure they can make a living in a safe environment. It is the most important thing for me to make sure of these two things, to enable people to live back in our region and work for their success and wealth.
KZM: Ko Aung Naing Tun, your constituency is not far from Yangon. But there is a huge development gap between the two places. Do you have any plans for the development of your constituency if you win the coming election and do you have any plans to introduce immediate changes?
ANT: First of all, we need to visit people and listen to their wishes. Then, we need to find out what we can do in cooperation with them. Rather than working for people, we will invite them to work together with us. Personally, I want to act as a coordinator between civil servants and citizens. I will attempt to help civil servants earn the trust of citizens, and make civil servants provide good services and fulfill the needs of citizens to their best abilities.
KZM: Regarding the youth, President U Thein Sein recently told the Nikkei Asian Review that in a country run by generals for decades, there are relatively few potential leaders with direct experience of the politics of leading a government. He said so referring to his consideration for a second presidential term. How do you feel about what he said, that there are no strong and experienced youth who can assume the country’s leadership? By saying this, does this imply that he looks down on the young?
HM: The president was once a young man. It is more appropriate to take a constructive approach in approaching the young. It is not a strong argument that the youths who are raised under military rule lack leadership capacity. Such people would try even harder to struggle out of military rule. We want to struggle out of it. In a country where people have been oppressed, revolt is a usual occurrence. It is not that young were destroyed by the oppression of the system. Perhaps, they might be waiting for the right time, readying themselves. For example, we have improved ourselves while waiting for the change in the country. There are many young people who have improved their capacity by themselves in our country. There will be many others like us in the future. I am concerned that what the president said can be interpreted as looking down on young people. No matter how much young people are oppressed, there are able people who are little known. Sometimes, the more they are oppressed, the more capable they are. Therefore, I don’t think young people lack this capacity. Those who live in places without change have a greater desire for change. Those who live in undeveloped places have a greater desire for development.
KZM: So, they want to get out of a repressive situation?
HM: I believe that more young people, who will struggle out of a repressive situation and introduce real changes to the country, will emerge both in the 2015 and 2020 elections.
KZM: The NLD is fielding an increased number of young candidates. It is favoring ethnic candidates in ethnic regions. And the party leadership is giving more attention to young members. What are the NLD’s policies on its young members?
ANT: In the NLD’s candidate selection criteria, youth, ethnic background and women are favored in cases where the capacity of potential candidates is even. The NLD has formed work teams from younger members and it is in the party’s youth development plans that young, middle-aged and senior members work together.
KZM: How much confidence do you have to win the election as you will have to contest with powerful and financially strong rivals, in your case a deputy minister?
HM: I have 100 percent confidence if the election is free and fair as promised, because I myself believe in politics. I believe only when there are political changes will there be economic changes, and only when there are economic changes will there be social changes. People have become very fed up with the military administration. They want change. The young are active, energetic and have the strength and energy to work anytime. There are many things that young people have and old people don’t have: for example we are more able than old people to use technology and find information. On the other hand, old people have a lot of experience. We also need to learn from experience. A region, a country or system with a fairer balance between old people and the young will be able to move forward further.
KZM: If things do not happen as you expect in the election and post-election period, how will you feel?
HM: The election has a certain degree of importance in creating a system that represents the will of people. It is a change. But, I will not feel downhearted nor quit politics if I fail. Our ultimate goal is not just an election. We eye for a federal democratic country with equality. And I believe the other ethnic people of this country share the same view.
KZM: Thank you both for your contribution.