Election 2020

New Ethnic Faces Dot Myanmar’s 2020 Election Landscape

By Nan Lwin 26 August 2020

YANGON—Ever since the Union Election Commission (UEC) announced November’s election, Myanmar’s political parties have been gearing up their preparations for the upcoming campaign. The UEC said more than 7,000 people across the country have submitted application forms as candidates.

Who are these candidates? According to the political parties’ social media accounts, many are young, educated and new to politics.

The Irrawaddy spoke with seven of the new faces representing major ethnic parties — the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy and the Arakan Nation Party — as well as the merged ethnic parties from Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Mon and Chin states.

They shared with The Irrawaddy their ambitious plans and challenges for the 2020 election, their thoughts about the political landscape beyond 2020 and how they would contribute to the country’s democratic reforms.

Name: Seng Nu Pan

Party: Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP)

Constituency: Lower House of Parliament

Myitkyina Township, Kachin State

Age: 24

Education: Bachelor of laws (LL.B), Myitkyina University

Seng Nu Pan, Lower House candidate for Myitkyina Township from the KSPP. / Supplied

The Irrawaddy: You have been involved in many issues relating to human rights, especially those that concern the problem of internally displaced persons [IDPs] in Kachin State. Why have you decided to seek a seat in the upcoming election?

Seng Nu Pan: From my vantage point, I don’t see any lawmaker in Parliament who is consistently focused on issues related to youth and women. I led the team that drafted a youth policy for the country. When we approached lawmakers to introduce the policy, we found that many of them were quite unresponsive to us. Many of them are only working within their party framework. Because our issue is not a part of their party agenda, they won’t focus on it. I believe that it is time for young people to enter the Hluttaw who represent young voices and feelings, and who are also willing to speak out on issues and challenges. At the same time, so many things need to be tackled in Kachin. There are issues of unemployment, human rights, drugs and simple public safety. That’s why I decided to the contest the upcoming election.

The Irrawaddy: What would you like to do if you are elected as a lawmaker?

Seng Nu Pan: I will primarily focus on issues confronting youth and women. We have a youth policy but still don’t apply it. Firstly, I will work together with other young lawmakers to put that policy into motion. The young candidates from merged ethnic parties —the Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Mon and Chin — have already discussed it. So, that puts us in a strong position. I will also push Parliament to enact a policy relating to rights for women. The other important issue is how the budget is allocated to our state. As you already know, natural resources from Kachin State provide billions of dollars in revenue for the country. But we only see a small fraction of those revenues coming back to Kachin. The national government should be investing in education, health and social security since our natural resources provide so much of the overall revenue. If I am elected as a lawmaker, I will call for tripling the amount budgeted for Kachin State.

The Irrawaddy: There are so many homegrown Kachin parties in Kachin. Why do you want to contest under the KSPP?  And what would be your favorite policy of the KSPP?

Seng Nu Pan: The party has come together through collaboration by all the stakeholders in Kachin, including religious, cultural [and] social [groups], civil societies and think tanks. When it comes to policy, it has taken a strong stand to promote young people and involve them in decision making. It’s also worth noting that the party grants 30 percent participation to young people when it comes to choosing candidates. I came in to the party because I like those policies.

The Irrawaddy: What are your biggest challenges ahead of the election?

Seng Nu Pan: There are many challenges, especially COVID-19 rules and regulations for public gatherings. The ruling party can use state-owned media for its campaign. And the other major parties can generate attention through mainstream media for their campaigns. But for ethnic parties like us, it will be very difficult. The main challenge is finances. We can’t spend as much money on the campaign as they do. But our goal is to implement political reforms for the people in Kachin.

Some have criticized my candidacy because of my age. They think that I am too young to become a lawmaker.  And some think that I don’t have enough political experience. But if people look carefully at my background, they will find that I firmly stand for the IDPs in Kachin.  I faced a lawsuit and was almost sent to jail. I was also involved in the reform of education laws.

Age and experience aside, I believe that anyone who really wants to implement reforms and is capable of speaking out for their country, state and the people should be given a place in the political arena.

The Irrawaddy: Do you have a message you’d like to send to the voters in your constituency?

Seng Nu Pan: I am prepared to raise Kachin State’s issues effectively in the Parliament if I am elected. I already have a strategic plan for what I am going to do for the people during the coming five years. To carry out those tasks, I need support from the voters. I would like to say that people need to vote for MPs who really want to carry out reforms for the people.

U Maw Htun Aung

Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD)

Upper House of Parliament

Muse Township, northern Shan state

Age: 37

MA in social policy and social development, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Master of public administration, Cornell University

U Maw Htun Aung, Upper House candidate for Muse Township from the SNLD. / Maw Htun Aung / Facebook

The Irrawaddy: You have been involved in natural resources policy reform for many years. Why have you decided to seek office in the upcoming election?

U Maw Htun Aung:  I have worked on policy reform in natural resources and the environment for more than 10 years. I have experience in working with the government ministers and Hluttaws [legislative houses]. And that work has met with some success. But in the current situation of our country, I am not satisfied with the results.

In the country’s current situation, we must take 10 steps while others are taking one. I think our progress and pace [of reform] have been too slow.

Some might say the pace of reform is slow due to the 2008 Constitution, but that’s not the only factor. Some of the obstacles to reform have little to do with the Constitution. The 2008 Constitution does not have many restrictions when it comes to reforming administrative law. I want to speed the pace of reform. My age and environmental experience put me in a position to help carry out the needed reforms. So I decided to seek office in the election.

The Irrawaddy: What would you like to do if you are elected as a lawmaker?

U Maw Htun Aung: First of all, I think that we need to focus on the state [issues]. As you know, there is a need for greater harmony between different ethnic communities. There are also issues related to land grabbing and the rule of law. Rule of law cannot be overemphasized. It affects our daily lives. And keep in mind the issue of life in a conflict zone as well. I think we need to put more efforts into addressing the health and education problems facing IDPs. Whatever we do, we need to focus on the needs of the indigenous people. There will of course be border-related issues as well.

Secondly, there are special concerns because Muse is a border town with China. China-backed mega projects such as a railway, economic zones and other infrastructure will be built in the area. And those projects will lead to unintended consequences such as human trafficking and other human rights issues. I will make use of my role in Parliament effectively to ensure that people are not harmed due to the projects. Another thing is the peace process. When it comes to peace, we have to work within the 2008 constitution.

Lastly, we need to be aware of global issues such as climate change and the related issue of COVID-19. The number of natural disasters in the country has risen. Crops have been destroyed. The question is: Is our government prepared to face these challenges? There are policy issues that need to be addressed. We need to stay connected with the international community and keep an eye on what policies have been adopted to face climate change. Then we can lay the foundation for the best practices for the environment of our country in sustainable ways. I would like to push the government to get involved in a global approach to a global problem.

The Irrawaddy: You are an ethnic Kachin. There are so many homegrown Kachin parties; why do you want to contest under theSNLD? And what would be your favorite policy of the SNLD?

U Maw Htun Aung:  When it comes to the federal system and ethnic affairs, the SNLD’s policies are strong.

They stand firm on what they say. They are men of their word. They have never hesitated in the promotion of federalism. It’s also worth noting that the SNLD has decided to become a policy-based party on its 30th anniversary. The political principle of the party is always focused on the Panglong agreement. It is a party that recognizes the importance of the Panglong agreement in the forming of modern [Myanmar]. Based on these facts, these are in line with my political views, so I chose to be elected as a member of this party.

The Irrawaddy: What are your biggest challenges ahead of the election?

U Maw Htun Aung:  It is important for the candidate to be the best representative of the region and the state. People will need a competent candidate because of the uncertain political contexts in Shan State and the uncertain situation with international relations. If other parties nominate qualified candidates, that will be a challenge for me.

The Irrawaddy: Do you want to send any message to the voters in your constituency?

U Maw Htun Aung: I chose this path not because someone forced me to take it, but because I want to represent our people in the region as a force for reform in our country.

I also have an adequate education and work experience that can prove effective and bring about success. Based on my work experience, I have a solid understanding the process of policy reforms and how to overcome potential obstacles. I also want to say, I am not representing just one ethic group. I will be representing all the people, all races and religions here in my constituency. Given these points, you can count on me to work for you.

Saw Min Min Myaing

Karen National Democratic Party (KNDP)

Upper House of Parliament

Kawkareik Township, Karen State

BA (Myanmar)

Saw Min Min Myaing, Upper House candidate for Kawkareik Township from the KNDP. / Supplied

The Irrawaddy: Why have you decided to seek office in the upcoming election?

Saw Min Min Myaing: As a young man, I want to work for the best interests of our people and Karen State. So, I decided to seek election as a lawmaker. Serious feelings of inequality are a reality in ethnic areas, and that is one reason I decided to run.

The Irrawaddy: What would you like to do if you are elected as a lawmaker?

Saw Min Min Myaing: What we are facing here is that when the government announces a project or enacts a law, it does not take into account the needs of the people in Karen State. If I become an MP, I will object to the government’s policies when they are not in the best interest of our people and our state. If those policies are good for our people, I will help them to carry them out effectively.

For example, the government comes up with projects and from its point of view those projects will be beneficial. But in reality, those projects often do more harm than good.  If I win the election, I will focus on those kinds of issues. Most importantly, I will do my best to prevent our ethnic nationalities from being harmed by ruling government policies.

The Irrawaddy: Why did you choose to contest as part of the KNDP? And what would be your favorite policy of the KNDP?

Saw Min Min Myaing: In 2010, there were more than four Karen parties. It was not easy for the parties to win the election with the vote split. I am one of the young men who pushed Karen parties to merge. Now, they have merged, so I decided to become involved in it. Equal rights and self-determination are the KNDP’s primary goals.

The Irrawaddy: What are your biggest challenges ahead of the election?

Saw Min Min Myaing:  I have many challenges because there are a lot of Mon in my constituency. There is the Mon party as well. At the same time, the National League for Democracy will also contest in my constituency.

But I believe that if the Karen people are aware of current political conditions and understand how they can benefit from voting for Karen MPs from a Karen party, they will vote for us.

The Irrawaddy: Do you want to send any message to the voters in your constituency?

Saw Min Min Myaing: I put my faith in the Karen people in the 2020 election. People will decide who deserves their vote. As for me, I can assure them that I will be their voice in Parliament.

U Tun Tun Naing

Arakan National Party (ANP)

Lower House of Parliament

Ann Township, Rakhine State

Age: 35

Master in Strategic Planning and Public Policy

University of Philippines Los Banos (UPLB)

U Tun Tun Naing, Lower House candidate for Ann Township from the ANP. / Tun Tun Naing / Facebook

The Irrawaddy: Why have you decided to seek office in the upcoming election?

U Tun Tun Naing: Currently, we are facing a lot of issues and problems in Rakhine State, especially issues of development and social insecurity. I decided to run in support of the rights of the Rakhine people, self-determination, equality and our right to create our own destiny. I will speak from the Parliament to achieve those issues.

It’s also important to note that we have a lot of human rights violations in Rakhine State. And justice has not been delivered so far. I will push the Parliament to address these issues. My voice will reflect the voice of the Rakhine people in the Parliament.

The Irrawaddy: What would you like to do if you are elected as a lawmaker?

U Tun Tun Naing: The non-democratic provisions in the 2008 Constitution need to be amended. And we need a constitution that is acceptable to ethnic minorities. We need a government elected by the Rakhine people. We don’t need someone who is directly chosen at the national level.

We can carry out reforms to ensure the self-determination and equality that our ethnic groups are demanding. In Rakhine, there are things that need to change. In particular, there is no economic development. There are no job opportunities for the Rakhine people, and there is a lot of corruption in Rakhine State.

I think we need to change those conditions. Another thing that needs to change in Rakhine is that women mostly spend time on household chores. I think that the role of women needs to be enhanced.

The Irrawaddy: Why are you running as part of the ANP? And what would be your favorite policy of the ANP?

U Tun Tun Naing: The ANP has formed to support the demands of the Rakhine people. It is focused on Rakhine nationalism, which is supported by most of the Rakhine people. I chose the party because the party’s main aim is to create for the Rakhine people our own destiny. That is what we want the most.

The Irrawaddy: What are your biggest challenges ahead of the election?

U Tun Tun Naing: Our party is the most popular in Rakhine. I do not think that there are many challenges for me. If the election can take place fairly and securely, I do not think it will be that difficult.

In the current political climate, the NLD has implemented some policies that the ethnic people do not want. They ignore the roles and rights of the ethnic people. In this regard, the role of ethnic parties is to keep working for the benefit of the ethnic state. In our country, we would get better results if ethnic parties worked together rather than being dominated by one big party.

The Irrawaddy: Do you want to send any message to the voters in your constituency?

U Tun Tun Naing: I will do my best for the Rakhine people, including Ann Township, without self-interest. There are conflicts and human rights violations in our state. I will call for parliament to solve those issues.  I will try my best for the Rakhine people and their rights.

Dr. Hein Paing Htoo Chit

Mon Unity Party (MUP)

Mon State parliament

Mawlamyine Township, Mon State

Age: 29

M.B.B.S

University of Medicine (Magwe)

Dr. Hein Paing Htoo Chit, Mon State parliament candidate for Mawlamyine Township from the MUP. / Hein Paing Htoo Chit / Facebook

The Irrawaddy: Why have you decided to seek office in the upcoming election?

Dr. Hein Paing Htoo Chit: I graduated from Magway Medical University in 2014. After that, I volunteered to give medical treatment to people in far-flung ethnic areas. When I was there, I found myself in situations where my services as a physician could not be put to use because of systemic problems.  People were in need, facing troubles right in front of me, but I could not help effectively because of the system. Since then, I realized we need systemic change.

Without thinking about politics, I started to provide youth development training in 2016. By performing training and volunteer work, I came to realize there are inequalities everywhere in Myanmar’s ethnic areas. I also realized that in order to push for reforms that will erase inequality I needed to become involved in parliamentary politics. That led to a decision to run in the election.

The Irrawaddy: What you would like to do if you are elected as a lawmaker?

Dr. Hein Paing Htoo Chit: I think there are five things that need to be fixed at present in Mawlamyine Township.

The first is education. We do not have enough institutions able to teach the required courses for young people. We also need to push to use ethnic mother tongue languages at school. When teaching in a language [Burmese] other than your own, it is less effective.

Another issue is the environment. Floods occur in Mon State almost every year. We need to discover the root cause of that problem. In Mawlamyine, we also have a waste production problem. There is a lot of garbage in the town. The municipal government is unable to handle it.

At the same time, we also need to tackle the drug problem here. That last one involves data accessibility. Most of the data relating to the problem are inaccessible. Some are not correct. Some are missing. We need to create a system that everyone can access. I think that we should address those issues as soon as we can.

The Irrawaddy: Why do you want to contest as part of the MUP?  And what would be your favorite policy of the MUP?

Dr. Hein Paing Htoo Chit: Democracy only works if it can find both the voice of diversity and common interests.

If you want to build a democratic system in the ethnic areas, you cannot exclude the ethnic people. So, ethnic parties need to be strengthened in the states. At the same time, the Mon party aims to develop the whole of Mon State. Because of this, I believed I needed to join the Mon party to further the development of the essence of democracy in Mon State.

We have been discussing issues in a democratic way in the party. Moreover, the party is also working on the development of our mother tongue in the educational system and urging to ensure equal access to a quality education system in Mon. For me, those policies of the MUP are very appealing.

The Irrawaddy: As a young candidate, what are your biggest challenges ahead of the election?

Dr. Hein Paing Htoo Chit: As is typical of Myanmar, the main problem is my age. Many say that I am too young, but they are not thinking about what I have done and what I am capable of doing for the country. I think that we need to look at who can do what and what has been done. If you look at only our ages, then we are criticized that we have no political background. Discrimination will always be a factor, but it shouldn’t be in a democracy.

When it comes to carrying out democratic reforms, it does not depend on age alone. I think that they must look more closely at how that person can help Myanmar’s reforms and their vision for the country’s future. On a practical level, COVID-19 is also challenge for us as a new face in politics because of limits on public gatherings.

The Irrawaddy: Do you want to send any message to the voters in your constituency?

Dr. Hein Paing Htoo Chit: I want the people in Mawlamyine to see my dream of what Mawlamyine could be like in the future. I understand that public support will vary depending on the party. Some will have another party to choose. But, the future will depend on who can strengthen our democracy. In the long run, the people will give support to a party that understands equality and is focused on redressing grievances caused by inequalities.

Maw Moe Myar

Kayah State Democratic Party (KySDP)

Lower House of Parliament

Shardaw Township, Kayah State

Age: 27

B.A (Geo)

Maw Moe Myar, Lower House candidate for Shardaw Township from the KySDP. / KySDP / Facebook

The Irrawaddy: Why have you decided to seek office in the upcoming election?

Maw Moe Myar: I have been demanding peace and the promotion of ethnic rights as an activist for the past six years. As you know, the existing laws do not provide for the rights and security of ethnic people.

I believe that we need to put in place legal reforms in Parliament to ensure the long-term development of the ethnic peoples. So, I decided to run for Parliament. I have also learned that we need to make use of the forces of civil society when it comes to legal reforms. I come from a civil society organization background. I believe that if I am elected, I would be able to use my past experiences to bring the effective legal changes in Parliament.

The Irrawaddy: What would you like to do if you are elected as a lawmaker?

Maw Moe Myar: Our area is not very peaceful. Security in daily life and access to education are the most important for our people. We have been suffering inequalities in different sectors when compared with Burmese-dominated regions. We, the ethnic people, long for equal rights. To achieve equal rights, we need to achieve long lasting peace first.

The first thing I want to do as lawmaker is to achieve peace in our state.

The Irrawaddy: Why did you decide to run as part of the KySDP?  And what would be your favorite policy of the KySDP?

Maw Moe Myar: I chose the KySDP because the party’s policies are in line with my beliefs. The party has in-depth knowledge about the state since it is a homegrown party. It also has a deep understanding about the political problems in the state. So we know what our people want.

The party has seven goals and 12 policies. One of my favorites is that the party will work for decentralization in the administration. I am running for office because there are policies that need to be tailored to the local situation in Kayah State.

The Irrawaddy: As a young candidate, what are your biggest challenges ahead of the election?

Maw Moe Myar: I am a young woman. There are some who believe I would not be capable of taking on the task of reform.

When I visit with local people, some older people question what I can do as a young woman and some even ask me if I have any real understanding of the cultural traditions of the Kayah people.

But I have studied all those things carefully. I have studied what the local people want at the grassroots level. Because of my youth, I have had to work harder than more senior representatives to be taken seriously.

As a young woman, I also face financial issues in the campaign. Because I was not involved in business in the past — I spent my time as an activist — I cannot spend as much money as the big parties. So I have to compensate with my strength and ability to make up for the lack of finances. I have many challenges, but I am preparing to work for the people to continue the reform process.

The Irrawaddy: Do you want to send any message to the voters in your constituency?

Maw Moe Myar: I would like to urge young people and women to become involved in development of our villages, townships and states. Because we have so many things needing to be changed.  We also have a lot of obstacles. But we need to move forward. I already have plans to create opportunities for women to get involved in community development. I would like to ask young people and women to join and support our party so that we can strive to create a peaceful future together.

Mai Lin Lin Tun

Chin National League for Democracy (CNLD)

Lower House of Parliament

Matupi Township, Chin State

Age: 37

MA (English)

Mai Lin Lin Tun, Lower House candidate for Matupi Township from the CNLD. / Mai Lin Lin Tun / Facebook

The Irrawaddy: Why have you decided to seek office in the upcoming election?

Mai Lin Lin Tun: In Chin State, young people are not allowed to participate much in politics. The involvement of women in politics is also rare. I think we —women — should go into the political arena. I decided to enter politics because I want to urge and pave the way for young people to get involved in shaping our future. I also want to take responsibility for our state. In Chin State, there are many issues that need to be tackled. The education and health systems are extremely poor. There is not enough support from the government. I want to change those situations.

The Irrawaddy: What would you like to do if you are elected as a lawmaker?

Mai Lin Lin Tun: The most important thing is education reform. I also want to enhance the lives of women and young people in the state. I want to create job opportunities for them. In terms of education, the literacy rate is low in Chin State. There are not enough teachers. Students don’t get support from the government. There are also language barriers. I want to find out how we can make policies that will change these situations.  I think we need to gear up the policy reforms to address these problems.

We have almost no job opportunities for the people. People in the state often go abroad for jobs. We need to create a system that builds job opportunities for them. I also want to add more provisions in the law to protect the rights of women and to enhance the roles of women in the Chin community.

The Irrawaddy: Why did you decide to run as part of the CNLD?  And what would be your favorite policy of the CNLD?

Mai Lin Lin Tun: There are many Chin parties in our state. But I chose the CNLD because the party prioritizes the participation of women and youth. One of my favorite policies is the party’s determination to strive for equality and self-determination for the Chin people.

The Irrawaddy: As a young candidate, what are your biggest challenges ahead of the election?

Mai Lin Lin Tun: Being a young woman is the biggest challenge for me. In Chin State, there is a stereotypical view that politics is only for men. People have also criticized me for not having any political experience. As a young person, I admit I have no experience in politics but I have willingness.

I want to take responsibility for our state. Some critics questioned whether it is possible for a woman to do it. It’s all about the skills. I think that they should look at whether you are capable to carry out the reforms. I think that it has to do with goodwill.

The Irrawaddy: Do you want to send any message to the voters in your constituency?

Mai Lin Lin Tun: Given the current situation, many people always say that this small party [the CNLD] cannot carry out reforms. I don’t want them only to look at whether the party is big or small. I want them to look at which party can best serve Chin State and ethnic Chin people.

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