Karen State is the point of origin for the world’s longest running civil war, pitting the Karen National Union (KNU) against the central government since 1949. The legacy of more than 60 years of conflict and the present day needs of the ethnic Karen people will be major aspects of the 2015 election in Karen State, as evidenced by the existence of five parties with Karen, or its alternative Kayin, in their names.
Among many other issues that are products of the conflict, the state is riddled with landmines; more than 100,000 Karen refugees live in camps across the border in Thailand, waiting to see how the election plays out; and the KNU leadership has been one of the major ethnic armed groups pushing for the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement with the government, after signing a bilateral accord with Naypyidaw in 2012. Though the KNU has been a leading ceasefire proponent, splinter factions including the Democratic Karen Benevolence Army (DKBA) have engaged in active hostilities with the government in recent years. While no reliable data exists on how average citizens feel about the conflict or its actors, candidates are sure to make an effort to take the pulse, and attempt to present themselves as reflective of those voters’ voices. The impact of Karen ethnic armed groups on the campaign season, election day and beyond is an open question.
Karen State returns seven lawmakers to the Union Parliament’s Lower House and 12 to the Upper House. The regional legislature is made up of 17 elected parliamentarians, including three ethnic affairs representatives and six military MPs.
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