Three ethnic Mon political parties—the All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMRDP), the Woman’s Party (Mon) and the Mon National Party (MNP)—will be contesting the Nov. 8 election in eastern Burma’s Mon State. Alongside them, however, will be a number of independent ethnic Mon candidates campaigning on the grounds that they will serve the interests of the minority.
Naing Ye Zaw, also known as Naing Zaw Moe, is one such contender, seeking a place in the Mon State parliament. The former Lt-Col and once member of the MNP recently spoke with The Irrawaddy about his prospects and views on the upcoming poll.
As a former member of the MNP, why did you decide to run as an independent?
A politician wants to work as an element within a party. There is a saying that ‘without a party, there is no democracy.’ So I joined the Mon National Party. But then I found that while they were saying they were moving forward to democracy, they were approaching democracy with a subconscious authoritarianism. So the democracy was not real. [Not all of] those who talk about the merits of democracy fully accept the values of democracy; they can’t get rid of their authoritarian traits. I rose through the ranks to become a central executive committee member in the MNP, but then I was removed because I was not accepted by some members to run for election. I found that, at present, lawmakers are mostly working individually in the Parliament rather than collectively as a party. Independently, we can still serve the interests of our constituents.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) is also fielding an ethnic candidate in your constituency. Do you think you will be able to compete against an NLD rival?
I am confident that I can beat all of my rivals. I have served as an officer for more than two decades in the [Burma] Army. I believe that if people really know more about me, they will find that no one else is as suitable as I am. But then, I have to do a lot to make sure people know about me.
Many people typically do not like ex-military officers. Do you think that will deter people from voting for you?
Though I came from the army, I am neither on the side of the military nor authoritarianism. I am on the side of democracy. I have military knowledge, which is very beneficial to local people. I don’t see my military background as a stain, but as a tool that can be used when necessary. For example, martial arts is not only meant for bullying; it can be used to protect people. I can help a lot with my military skills in cases of emergency in my region. I need to explain that to people so they understand.
What are your political hopes?
I want to be a real politician, but I still have a long way to go. To become a real politician, one has to join a political party and engage in politics.
What would you do if you won the election?
Sub-national parliaments should have greater legislative power; states should have their own constitutions.
What are the biggest needs of Mon State?
Livelihood is the basic need of all people, but education is fundamentally important for ensuring livelihoods. It is education that rives development. I believe that education must be given constant attention while also fulfilling basic needs. A region cannot develop in the long run if the education level is low, even when livelihoods are secure.