With more than 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 parties and notable regional 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 to Solomon, vice chairman of the All Nationals’ Democracy Party (Kayah State), whose candidates will go up against the country’s big guns and several other ethnic political parties as they competes for votes in Burma’s least populace administrative region, the state known alternately as Kayah and Karenni.
Solomon, whose party will field 26 candidates in the upcoming election, will himself compete for a seat in the state parliament, seeking to represent Hpruso Township’s constituency No. 2.
What is the slogan and policy of the All Nationals’ Democracy Party [Kayah State]?
There has been a saying since the colonial period, used to talk about Kayah, Karenni people in Kayah State: ‘Let sleeping dogs lie.’ So, our party slogan is ‘Let’s rise, Kayah people, Karenni people.’
Our state is lagging behind in every respect, mainly because of poor transportation. It has affected the education, health and socioeconomic sectors. Therefore, it is important that we have good transportation. It is the key to future development.
Who does your party represent?
We try to represent as many ethnicities as possible, as our name is the All Nationals’ Democracy Party. The party is founded on the principle that ethnicities should coexist with mutual understanding. [If elected], we’ll establish a federal Union based on the Union Spirit, together with the ethnic [Burman] majority. We’ll work to catch up with other parts of the country.
Your party is contesting 11 of 15 seats in the Kayah State parliament. Do you think it has a shot at winning?
Though several parties are contesting in Kayah State, I was born and raised in Hpruso Township, and while I was serving as a health staff member of the rural health care department [under the Ministry of Health] for 24 years, I traveled across the villages in Hpruso Township and offered help. I have been to almost every village there for social reasons. There are 10 village tracts in Hpruso Township, with different tribes living there.
The USDP won every seat in Kayah State in 2010; what challenges do you see as you go up against the ruling party and candidates from the main opposition National League for Democracy?
To be frank, the 2010 election can’t be said to have been a [free and fair] election. They [USDP] manipulated advanced votes to form a government themselves. They manipulated advanced votes and the votes won by the Kayan National Party and National Unity Party. The challenge we are facing today regards the phrase ‘free and fair election.’ We have to wait and see if the election will be free and fair as they [the UEC and government] claim.
When and why was the party established?
We established the party in 2011. Before that, we had the experience in 2010 of our local party representing the state being forced to disband, because the USDP would not have won the 2010 election otherwise. We established our party again when the rays of hope started to shine in 2012. We submitted the application on March 27, 2013. We were officially registered on Aug. 1, 2013. Officially we have over 1,500 members.
We felt like we had to engage in politics post-2010. Though political parties have mushroomed in other divisions and states, there are only a few parties in our state.
In January, three local parties in Kayah State said they would merge. But now instead, they have each fielded their own candidates. Why?
We thought we would be able to form a three-in-one party. But then we, the Kayah ethnic group, have a history of faction. If we were to merge with them, we would probably split later. For one thing, the Kayan [National] Party does not represent Kayah State, they come from Pekon Township in southern Shan State. So, it is difficult for us to merge with them. It [merging] is easier said than done.
Which will be the major rival of your party?
There will be 11 parties. We didn’t expect the number of parties to be that high. We could not merge with two other Kayah parties, and two Shan parties and the Karen Democratic Party will also run for the election. I don’t think we need to be afraid if the election is free and fair. However, I don’t have much trust in it.
There are lots of difficulties, for example carrying the ballot boxes. There might be fraud during the transportation of ballot boxes from one place to another, considering the poor transportation.
The USDP can be said to be our major rival. The National Development Party, which emerged very recently, is a proxy of the USDP. Independent candidates are also the proxies of the USDP; the USDP is still casting a shadow over them. It seems they want to kill a bird with three arrows.
Big parties are running in both the Burman mainland and states far and wide. Are they being too greedy?
Yes, there are lots of shenanigans. They buy votes. I am deeply concerned that our poor [local] people who do not have political awareness will be easily swayed by them. Their vote is quite valuable if they are to see their wishes fulfilled. We have to wait and see in suspense if the election will be free and fair.
How much do you trust the election commissions at their different levels?
We’ve frequently met with Union Election Commission [UEC] chairman U Tin Aye, in Loikaw, Naypyidaw and Yangon. There are provisions in laws and by-laws of the election commission [to ensure a free and fair vote]. But while the concerned township election subcommissions are obliged [to follow the rules], political parties are also responsible to monitor them. If they [political parties] don’t do so and if township election subcommissions or village election subcommissions are under somebody’s thumb, the election will not be free and fair. Perhaps, they might still have to dance to somebody’s tune. Everyone is waiting to see the results of the coming election.
Does the party provide financial support for its candidates?
We have to incur all expenses out of our own pocket. We have to pay the 300,000 kyats [US$230] candidate registration fees by ourselves.
Are you satisfied with the performance of the current Kayah State government?
I don’t want to blame the Kayah State government. They have to function within a centralized system and they therefore have their own strengths and weaknesses. Our one-party state government can do nothing except say yes.
Which party do you think is likely to win this election?
We ethnic parties embrace federalism, and there are parties that support democracy. The important thing is to be able to fulfill the people’s wishes in the two houses [of the Union Parliament]. If we can gradually work toward power- and resource-sharing, I think federalism can take shape over time. If state governments and parliaments get stronger and can make the people’s voices heard at the Upper House and Lower House, there will be gradual changes to the states, I reckon.