Election 2020

Karen Parties Coordinate Campaigns to Maximize Votes in Myanmar Election

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 22 July 2020

YANGON—Karen political parties say they will coordinate their electoral campaigns to prevent the splitting of votes between parties in a single constituency.

“If a candidate from only one party runs in a constituency, he will win more votes. We will do this to win votes,” Karen National Democratic Party (KNDP) chairman Mahn Aung Pyi Soe told The Irrawaddy.

There are four Karen parties in the country: the KNDP and the Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party (PSDP), both based in Karen State, and the Karen National Party (KNP) and Kayin People’s Party (KPP), which are based in Yangon.

All four parties say they have coordinated to divide electoral constituencies among them to prevent vote splitting. The KNDP will field candidates in every constituency in six out of seven Karen State townships—all except Thandaunggyi Township, where the KPP will contest.

“We don’t need to negotiate with KNP. We already have understanding with them,” Mahn Aung Pyi Soe told The Irrawaddy.

“We will not contest in their area, and they will also not run in our area. In Thandaunggyi, the KPP will contest the election. We’ll let them run there freely.”

According to a letter sent by the PSDP to the KNDP chairman, seen by The Irrawaddy, the PSDP has agreed not to contest any constituencies in Karen State. The Irrawaddy was unable to obtain a comment from the PSDP.

In 2018, three Karen State-based parties—the Karen Democratic Party, the Karen State Democracy and Development Party and the Karen United Democratic Party—folded and merged with the KNDP. Some members of the PSDP also resigned from their party and joined the merger.

“I heard that PSDP [candidates] will contest on the ticket of the KNDP because of the agreement,” KNP General Secretary Mahn Kyaw Nyein told The Irrawaddy. “Because it is mandatory for a political party to contest at least three seats in order to remain registered as a party, I heard the PSDP will contest at least three seats in Mon State.”

The KNP and the KPP will run candidates in Yangon and Ayeyarwady regions, where the largest populations of Karen people in the country outside Karen State are concentrated.

The KNP plans to run candidates in around six townships in Ayeyarwady and the KPP will contest in more townships, because the KPP, as an older party, enjoys wider support among Karen residents in the region, according to Mahn Kyaw Nyein.

“Even if we happen to contest in the same constituency, we will make sure we do not contest for the same seat,” he said. “For example, if we contest in Constituency 1, they will contest in Constituency 2 for the state parliament. For example, we can’t run for Upper House seats. We can at best run for Lower House seats. But the KPP can run for Upper House seats as it has public support in larger number of townships.”

The Karen parties have discussed the division of electoral constituencies since 2019 at the Karen Unity and Peace Committee (KUPC), according to Mahn Kyaw Nyein.

The KUPC consists of Karen revolutionary leaders, faith leaders, representatives of Karen political parties and civil society organizations.

In a video that shared widely on social media recently, Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung, member of the Karen National Union (KNU) Central Executive Committee, was seen urging the Karen people to vote for the KNDP in the 2020 election.

Though he made the remarks during a speech last year on Aug. 2—Karen Martyrs’ Day—the KNDP posted the video to its Facebook page on July 7.

In the video, the KNU leader said that just as the ethnic armed group has fought for the rights of Karen people through armed struggle outside the Parliament, Karen parties and politicians will strive for the rights of Karen people inside the Parliament.

“What I want to say is we need to vote for Karen national parties and Karen patriotic parties in the coming election. Only then will they be able to perform Karen national duties and work for the Karen national struggle,” said Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung in the video.

He said Karen voters are also responsible for the lack of progress on rights for Karen people over the past five years of the current government, because of who they voted for in the 2015 election.

The Karen political parties are now in the process of selecting candidates for their agreed upon constituencies. The general election will be held on Nov. 8.

Six Karen parties fielded candidates in the 2015 election. They lost in every election they contested, except for one seat in the Karen State parliament representing Thandaunggyi Township.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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