Mya Theingi Maw, a 31-year-old candidate for the National League for Democracy (NLD), is contesting a seat in the Mon State Parliament for Mudon Township, 25 kilometers south of state capital Moulmein. In 2000, she joined the NLD at the age of 16 as a youth coordinator and has spent her working life in durian and rambutan orchards with her siblings in Mudon’s Hmane Ka Nein village. Her candidacy faces a formidable challenger in 71-year-old Ohn Myint, the incumbent Mon State chief minister, who is seeking election with the Union Solidarity and Development Party.
She spoke with The Irrawaddy in Mudon, ahead of a Tuesday campaign rally, to discuss the problems facing her constituency.
How do you feel about competing against Ohn Myint?
I don’t have any special feelings about it. It’s not just about the Chief Minister. I will compete with anyone contesting this constituency.
How have you prepared for the election?
I prepared by following all the instructions of my superiors.
Do you believe you will win?
I don’t think I should answer this question yet. For me to win will depend on the public. People will give me more support if they want me to work under Amay Suu [NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi].
What kind of difficulties have you faced?
I am campaigning in Mon State. I cannot speak Mon, as I am Bamar. It is hard for people to understand me when I go to Mon villages.
Does it seem like these Mon villages are supporting you?
Once people hear the NLD campaign song, they come out of their houses and greet me. They wave. They show interest.
What kind of issues you will focus on for your constituency and for Mon State once you are elected?
As I am poor, I have experienced a lifetime of poverty and can empathize with them. I can bring change to their lives. I am also young. Young people feel as if they have no way of achieving their goals. I want to help them find their way to progress.
For example, I am a university graduate but I can’t get a job. I have to work at an orchard garden. This is not just my story, everyone is like that. Also we have to say the education system is of quite a low standard and can’t lead people to their way to improvement. I want to pave that way. I want to make changes to that education system, to a better education system.
Young people here are not able to finish their education. They have to work for their livelihood. Due to their economic difficulties, they can’t afford an education, they just end up working. Parents cannot support their children’s education because of their economic hardship.
Mon State has seen a huge exodus as people seek opportunities in other parts of the country and abroad. What would you do to address this if elected?
Because people are poor, they can’t live in their country. If they do, their earnings are not enough to survive here. If there are five family members, they only have enough when all five have to work. That’s why they go work abroad. The main problem is poverty. I want to help the poor on their way to economic improvement.