Election 2020

Ethnic Kayah Parties Pledge Cooperation in Myanmar’s Election

By Zue Zue 11 August 2020

YANGON—Two ethnic Kayah parties say they will run in Myanmar’s November election in different constituencies to prevent the splitting of votes between the parties in a single race.

A total of 34 seats are up for grabs in Kayah State—seven in the Lower House, 12 in the Upper House, 14 in the state parliament and one post for ethnic affairs minister. The Kayah State Democratic Party (KySDP) will run candidates for 30 seats and the Kayan National Party (KNP) will run candidates for four seats, according to officials from the two parties.

“Rather than competing with each other, as we share the same goal, we decided to work as a team to build together,” said KNP candidate Khun Myint Naing.

Established in May 2010, the KNP fielded candidates in six constituencies in the general election of that year and secured an ethnic affairs minister post and a seat in the Kayah State parliament. In the 2015 election, it lost in all 10 constituencies which it contested.

In November’s election, the KNP will run candidates for one seat each in the Lower House and Upper House representing Kayah State. It was also run candidates in five constituencies in Shan State’s Pekon Township, a Kayan-majority township where the KNP is headquartered, plus one constituency in Leiktho Township of Karen State.

Khu Theh Reh, general secretary of the KySDP, said the two parties decided to divide electoral constituencies between them due to lessons learnt from previous elections. Competing with each other in previous elections not only undermined local people’s trust in the parties but also split votes, said the general secretary.

The KySDP is the result of a merger between two ethnic Kayah parties, the All Nationals Democracy Party and the Kayah Democracy Unity Party. After it registered with the Union Election Commission in September 2017, it contested the by-election in 2018 and won a seat in the Kayah State Parliament representing Hpruso.

In a significant change from previous elections, 12 of the 34 candidates fielded by the two parties are activists from local civil society organizations (CSOs) engaged in peace, development, politics and legal affairs.

“We hoped in the 2015 [election] that the ruling party could perform better both in terms of development and politics,” said Ko De D, also known as Sitt Mone, one of the 12 activists running for office. “But since they gained power, their activities are just the opposite [of our expectations]. So we started to think we have to rely on ourselves, and we can’t rely on others. That’s why we decided to run in the election.”

Candidates from the two parties expect that they will win greater support from local ethnic people and CSOs due to their move to cooperate in the election.

“As many of the CSO leaders will run on the ticket of the two local parties, the CSOs, the youth and women are likely to support the ethnic parties based in Kayah State,” said Ko Kyaw Htin Aung of Kayah State-based Lain Technical Support Group.

In 2015, the National League for Democracy (NLD) was able to secure 26 out of 34 seats in Kayah State. However, Ko Kyaw Htin Aung suggested that due to political tensions between local people and the NLD, as well as land issues and a lack of progress in the peace process, the NLD will not be able to repeat the same victory in the November election.

While the NLD won a majority in Kayah, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party secured seven seats in 2015, with the remaining seat going to an independent candidate. Observers believe that the coming election will be a tightly contested race between the NLD, the USDP and the two Kayah parties.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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