The long-running efforts of a senior Kachin leader to register a party representing the ethnic group have finally paid off, with Burma’s Election Commission approving Dr. Manam Tu Ja’s registration of the Kachin State Democracy Party (KSDP) four years after he first set out to join the national political arena.
Burma’s state-run newspaper The Mirror reported the party’s official registration on Thursday, and Tu Ja, a former vice president of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), happily confirmed the development in a phone interview with The Irrawaddy.
“It’s a different time and a different government. … We did not get it last time because it was a time of political transition, and it was still the military government. We found that the present government is moving forward, toward democracy. This is why we got the party registered this time,” said Tu Ja, who will serve as the new party’s chairman.
Tu Ja’s last attempt to officially register a political entity, the Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP), was rejected by the Election Commission in 2010, ahead of elections that would later lead to the installation of a nominally civilian government.
The ability of the newly minted KSDP to contest in Burma’s next national elections, slated for 2015, offers the ethnic Kachin people an opportunity to vote for candidates that represent their interests, according to Tu Ja, who added that the Kachin minority were denied this chance in the November 2010 elections.
“We did not have Kachin representatives in the Kachin State parliament, nor the national Parliament, because we could not have our own party,” Tu Ja said.
The Mirror on Thursday reported: “The Union Election Commission found the proposed party, of 17 Kachin leaders led by U Manam Tu Ja, is in compliance with the rule of law and has been granted the registration to set up a political party.”
Following Tu Ja’s decision to resign his position with the KIO in 2009 to focus on registering the KSPP, The New Light of Myanmar, also a state-run newspaper, published a commentary in which it predicted the Kachin leader’s efforts would “build a brighter future for Kachin State by forming the Kachin State Progressive Party representing the Kachin nationals.”
Burma’s Union Election Commission rejected Tu Ja’s attempt to register the KSPP in 2010, a decision that was widely believed to have been directly related to a deteriorating relationship between the KIO and the central government over the former’s refusal to transform into a Border Guard Force. Tu Ja then tried to register as an independent candidate but was blocked again.
“It damaged a lot of the Kachin people’s political interests when we were not able to register the party at that time,” Tu Ja said.
“As a consequence, today there are no [Kachin] representatives in Parliament,” he added.
Fighting broke out in 2011 between the KIO and the military, ending a 17-year ceasefire between the two sides. Tu Ja, who was a member of the KIO delegation that negotiated the 1994 ceasefire agreement, could do little but watch from the sidelines as large swathes of Kachin State and northwestern Shan State were subject to an unprecedented aerial assault on KIO targets by the government.
Fighting between government troops and the ethnic rebels has since diminished, but flare-ups have still been a regular occurrence, despite the two sides having met several times in an attempt to re-establish a ceasefire.
“There should be a fair, give-and-take deal between the government and the KIO so as to solve conflict and have peace in Kachin State,” Tu Ja said. “Unless we have this, there will be no peace in Kachin.”