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INTERVIEW

Kachin Candidate: ‘They Should Listen to Ethnic Voices’

Seasoned Kachin human rights lawyer Mar Khar will contest the Nov. 8 general election as a parliamentary candidate for the Kachin Democratic Party.


Seasoned Kachin human rights lawyer Mar Khar, who represents many of Kachin State’s cases related to allegations of military abuses, will contest the Nov. 8 general election for a seat in the state parliament.

He will run for a state legislature position in Myitkyina Constituency No.1, where he will be a candidate for the Kachin Democratic Party (KDP), a relatively new and small party that was first registered in January 2014. The KDP is fielding 32 candidates for state- and union-level parliaments, and 22 of them will contest the Kachin State legislature. Chairman Gum Gao Awng Hkam will seek election in the Lower House in Kachin State’s Sumprabum Township, where the Union Election Commission (UEC) has already announced that the election will not take place in some villages due to unstable regional conditions. 

With an eye toward continuing his work for the people, Mar Khar said that he hopes to be a good representative for his people both in and outside of parliament. The Irrawaddy recently spoke with Mar Khar about changing course from being a human rights defender to a parliamentary candidate.

Why have you decided to represent the KDP?

I chose the KDP because I believe that it can work pragmatically for our people. I looked at the party head’s background, too. Its leader, Gum Gao Awng Hkam, is a human rights activist-turned-politician who has stood up for ethnic Kachin people since the junta years, has stood against the Myitsone [hydropower] Dam project has stood with farmers in Hukawng valley, and who has even been blacklisted under the military dictatorship for his human rights activities.

Being a small party competing against Burma’s biggest and most prominent parties, including the Kachin State Democracy Party, what challenges do you expect to face in the election?

The constituents in Myitkyina already know me personally. They just did not know that I would be competing at the polls. Because the KDP is a new party, not many people know about it. We have had to introduce the party to voters. Whenever we do this, voters say they know whom to vote for because now they have a choice of candidates. As we become better known to the residents of Myitkyina, we will gain their full support.

As a lawyer, you often take up cases of human rights violations in Kachin State. Do you think that you will be able to continue working freely in this capacity if you become a parliamentarian?

I feel that I will still be free to be involved in human rights violation cases. If we [the KDP] are elected, we will be at the forefront of the fight for equality and for human rights. We will not be silent to please the government. We will be open and critical, as usual. I would also continue to represent rights abuse cases when the parliamentary session closes because I would have more free time.

Given the current Constitution, why have you chosen to run for a state seat, which is often viewed as less effective than a union-level seat for legislators?

Kachin State is still far from achieving peace. Human rights violations are likely to become worse in Kachin State, given the current state of military affairs. I think that if I were to run for a union seat and be elected, I would be in Naypyidaw most of the time, and I might miss direct communication with locals. I just want to fulfill the people’s needs here, as I would also be continuing my career as lawyer. So Myitkyina is the nearest place that I should run to sit in parliament.

What is your view of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which has popular support across the nation, including in Kachin State?

‪NLD candidates are creating so many expectations among the public, saying that only they can bring change to this country. Local NLD candidates, in particular, are saying this in their campaigns, promising more than they can do. So people are wondering if they should vote for the NLD at this time since they don’t want any more militarization. It is wrong [for NLD candidates] to say that only they can bring change. Parliamentarians should collaborate in this multi-ethnic society. They should listen to ethnic voices. There are many democratic forces that want to bring change. We should all collaborate.

We can compete with [NLD candidates] on an individual level, given the KDP’s political experience. NLD candidates can’t specifically say what they would do if they won. They are just using the party’s background and the image of its leader [Aung San Suu Kyi], but they have not worked for ethnic Kachin. Many are just opportunists who did not care about ethnic Kachin under the military junta but are now rallying under the party flag for their own convenience.

Do you expect to win? And if so, what would you do?

We are trying to win the majority of the seats. Our party aims to work toward having a genuine federal union. We would also help the people to overcome their daily struggles with education, health, social welfare, and human rights issues. We, the candidates, would constantly strive to do this. Given that my background is in the human rights and legal fields, I would work on rule of law and criminal justice issues at the judiciary level.

Is your party fielding any candidates for any of the available four posts—Burman, Shan, Lisu, and Rawan—for ethnic affairs ministers in Kachin State?

No, we aren’t. We are against having two posts for Kachin sub-tribes—Lisu and Rawan—in Kachin State. They are Kachin sub-tribes and reside in Kachin State. It is clear that the authorities want to divide us [ethnic Kachin], which is an infringement on their own Constitution. They do not respect their own laws.