With some 90 political parties expected to compete in Burma’s general election on Nov. 8, The Irrawaddy is reaching out to the leadership of the major contenders to find out how they plan to contest, which issues they will emphasize and what challenges they face in this crucial election year. In this interview, The Irrawaddy speaks with Kyaw Swar Soe, chairman of the Myanmar Farmers Development Party, which says it will fight to represent a demographic that accounts for an estimated 70 percent of Burma’s population.
Why did you establish the Myanmar Farmers Development Party?
As I mobilized support while serving as secretary with the National Political Alliances League [a coalition political party that contested the 2010 election], I found that farmers do not understand democracy. They only know that they are hungry and in debt.
They told me not to talk about things that they don’t understand and asked me to establish a party that can take good care of them. So, I resigned from NPAL and established the Myanmar Farmers
Development Party. Throughout successive periods, they [farmers] have only been oppressed and never favored. So, I established the party together with like-minded people.
Will you personally contest the election?
Yes, I will [in the Upper House’s Bago-3 constituency, encompassing Daik-U, Shwegyin and Waw townships].
What would you do for the people if elected?
Firstly, I would try to provide people with rice and oil, to feed them well. Only when they are full would I ask them to think carefully. Now, they can’t think rationally, while they are hungry. So, I would feed them well first, and try to help increase per capita income and then work toward national development.
What preparations has your party made for the coming election?
We have been preparing since our party was established. We are like a matriculation student who has learned every day. If he studies only when the exam is near, he will be in a mess. Since we have learned every day, prepared every day, I think we will be able to get through the election period with ease.
Do you have trust in the Union Election Commission [UEC]? Do you think the election slated for November can be free and fair?
I hardly have trust in it. The voter lists are riddled with errors. If the UEC compiled inaccurate voter lists, then inaccurate results will come out of that. So, we are sending a letter to the UEC; if the voter lists can’t be rectified within these days [before the election], the election should be put off a little bit. There is no problem with putting it off, for it is important that the results are right.
It [correcting the voter lists] might take at least six months. Delaying the election for six months will not cause trouble for our country. But if an election is held based on inaccurate voter lists, the entire country would be thrown into chaos. The voter lists are wrong now. How can the election be free and fair?
What, if anything, does your party see as the biggest failing of the current government and the Parliament?
It fails because it takes no responsibility or accountability. The people will judge whether the government and Parliament are good or not. I don’t want to make that judgment.
Reform advocates have seen two major disappointments this year: the failure to substantively amend the Constitution and the inability of the government and ethnic armed groups to sign a nationwide ceasefire. What’s your take on these issues?
The military, which holds 25 percent of seats [in Parliament], does not want to amend it. Personally, I think the provision stating that proposed constitutional amendments require more than 75 percent of votes should have been amended. It should only require 60 percent of votes. That would make a big difference.
A ceasefire accord still can’t be signed because both sides are greedy and have bad tempers. How can a ceasefire be signed when both ethnic armed groups and the military are greedy and wrathful?
Do you think the NLD will win a landslide in November, as it did in the 2012 by-election? Would you consider working with the winning party as part of a coalition government?
I think we will win the landslide victory. We are not a nonentity. I would like to challenge them [the NLD]. The NLD won in the previous by-election because of the support of our farmers. However, now farmers have their father party and they will only vote for it.
Do you think the military will voluntarily reduce its role in politics?
It depends on their leaders. They will reduce it when they feel safe. Now, they keep the grip [on power] because they are concerned about what Daw Suu [opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi] might do [if they cede power]. They will feel safe if they believe the leader [of a future government] will not take [vengeful] actions retrospectively, and give them trouble.
As you know, military men are very alert. They tend to point their guns at the slightest provocation. But now, [Suu Kyi] is threatening to do this and that to them, so they dare not put down their guns.
What will the new, post-2015 government look like, in your view?
I expect it to be a farmers’ government. It has been over 60 years that military governments have ruled the country but the country has not developed. This time, let us farmers assume the presidency.