Election 2020

Leader of Myanmar’s Top Shan Party Resigns in Shock Announcement

By Nyein Nyein 28 September 2020

Following the sudden announcement of prominent ethnic Shan politician Khun Htun Oo’s resignation from his position as chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), the party’s leadership said it had not made any decision on whether to accept his resignation, and he will remain chairman for the time being.

Since 2018, Khun Htun Oo has frequently talked about retiring from the post of chairman of the SNLD, which is one of the biggest ethnic political parties, but the party re-elected him at its conference in Lashio in June last year. On Sunday he announced his resignation in Yangon-based 7day newspaper.

His decision to step down in the middle of the campaign period ahead of November’s general election has raised eyebrows. Some observers close to the party said that, as Khun Htun Oo has been inactive in party politics for the last two years, his resignation won’t have any effect, while others say he should stay on to lead the party’s electoral campaign.

Sai Kyaw Nyunt, a joint secretary of the SNLD, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that, “Khun Tun Oo is still our chairman and the party hasn’t made any decision yet [regarding his resignation announcement].”

He said the chairman wants to step down for “three reasons: his health, family matters and his desire to let the younger generation lead the party.”

On Sunday, SNLD vice chairman U Sai Nyunt Lwin told BBC Burmese that the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) did not receive a resignation letter directly from Khun Tun Oo, and was surprised to learn of his decision when they saw the notice published in the local newspaper. He said that during previous discussions with the chairman they had agreed to decide on the matter after the election, and they “could not understand why he made this sudden announcement.”

Khun Htun Oo founded the SNLD in 1988 and has led the party since then,

being elected as its chairman multiple times. He was an SNLD MP-elect from Hsipaw Township in Myanmar’s 1990 election, in which the SNLD won the largest number of seats after the National League for Democracy (NLD). The results of that vote were ignored by the former military regime.

Khun Htun Oo was a member of the Committee for Representing People’s Parliament (CRPP), which was formed in 1998 to call for the establishment of a parliament after the 1990 election results were shunned. He was sentenced to 93 years in prison with hard labor in November 2005, along with seven other Shan politicians, for raising concerns about the military government’s constitutional reform, and released in 2012 under then-President U Thein Sein.

In the 2015 general election, the SNLD won 40 seats in Parliament, becoming the fourth-ranking party. In the upcoming election, it will field 131 candidates in Shan State and other regions where many Shan reside. The party’s campaign posters have included Khun Htun Oo’s image along with candidates’ photos.

Sai Thiha Kyaw, a  Lower House lawmaker from the SNLD, said Khun Htun Oo’s plan to resign “won’t affect the party’s efforts in the election campaign”.

“It won’t affect the SNLD’s electoral campaign, as the party’s strength is based on its policies, and it has included qualified young candidates,” echoed David Hla Myint, the chairman of the United Nationalities Development Party (UNDP), of which Khun Htun Oo is a patron.

As a politician who has dedicated his career to promoting democracy, ethnic equality and federalism, his plan to resign could stem from his prolonged ill health, which makes it hard for him to travel long distances and lead the party’s canvassing, David Hla Myint said.

“I don’t think he has any issue within the party, because as he has said, he wanted to give space to the younger generation to lead the party,” he added.

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