RANGOON — A number of major ethnic political parties say they are more inclined to support the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) than the ruling party in the aftermath of Sunday’s election, but have their reservations about the NLD’s commitment to ethnic issues.
Ethnic leaders from Shan, Kachin, Karen, Arakan and Mon parties contesting the poll said that they believe the NLD will be a better that contesting in the upcoming election said that NLD may be a better ally than the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
Should the NLD fail to win an outright majority in the Union Parliament, ethnic party support is likely to be crucial to determining which party is able to form the next government in January.
Manam Tu Ja, the head of Kachin State Democracy Party (KSDP), told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that his party considered it necessary to cooperate with the NLD and hoped to use its good relations with the opposition force to secure greater powers in the next Kachin State assembly.
“We can join hands with the NLD, he said. “We can work together in the Union Parliament. While they play their role at a central government level, we can play our role at the state level. NLD is the only party that we can join hands with.”
However, Tu Ja added that there was some lingering distrust among his ranks as a result of the NLD’s campaigning tactics in Kachin.
“Ethnic people don’t want the NLD wielding influence in ethnic regions and deciding their destiny [for them],” he said.
Sai Nyunt Lwin, the general secretary of Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), told The Irrawaddy that it had a solid relationship with the NLD and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
“We are friends. We don’t attack or oppose each other,” he said. “We can’t predict what she can do for ethnic people, but it is a new change if they are in power. New faces will be seen [in the parliament] instead of the old people. So, we think and hope conditions will be better.”
Like Tu Ja, Nyunt Lwin confessed to some reservations about the party, saying that his party would ensure that it held the NLD to account if formed the next government.
“People can change their mind when they are in power,” he said.
Arakan National Party (ANP) chairman Aye Maung told local news agency Myanmar Now this week that his party regarded the NLD as its ally.
Aye Tha Aung, also a member of the ANP, said that his party considered a change in government to take a higher priority than any misgivings it had over the NLD.
“We will need to join hands and work together with democratic parties to topple the authoritarian government,” he said. “For that we will need to attempt amendments to the 2008 Constitution. We will join hands with those who want to amend the Constitution. What we want is equal rights for ethnic people and a commitment to democracy.”
At a Thursday press conference in Rangoon, Suu Kyi said that changes to the military-drafted charter would be difficult, but she did not believe that the challenge was insurmountable.”
“If the support of the people is strong enough, I don’t see why we should not be able to overcome a ‘minor problem’ like amending the Constitution,” she told reporters at her home in Rangoon.
Saw Say Wah, vice-chairman of the Karen People’s Party, told The Irrawaddy that his party was ready to work with the NLD after the election, provided they were given a commitment to work with ethnic parties and promote peace, stability and development in ethnic regions.
“We think that NLD is a bit weak it its policies regarding ethnic minorities,” he said. “They have less interest on ethnic affairs. We want them to pay more intention to ethnic issues.”
At her press conference, Suu Kyi offered an olive branch to rival parties, expressing her intention to form a coalition government based on the principles of national reconciliation.
“If the NLD wins overwhelmingly, even if we win 100 percent, we would like to make a government of national reconciliation in order to set a good precedent for our country,” she said. “It shouldn’t be a zero-sum game where winner takes all and loser loses everything.”
Despite Suu Kyi’s overtures, Mon National Party (MNP) chair Nai Ngwe Thein said that his party would first focus on forming a bloc with other ethnic parties in the next parliament.
“We will never join hands with an authoritarian party,” he said. “We will keep fighting against dictatorship. We will consider whether to cooperate [with the NLD] after the election. But we will first prioritize alliances with ethnic parties. Then we will consider for larger allies.”