‘Generals Don’t Go to War Without a Plan’

By Tha Lun Zaung Htet 16 June 2015

With more than 80 political parties expected to compete in a general election due in November, The Irrawaddy is reaching out to the leadership of the major parties to find out how they plan to contest, what issues they will emphasize and which direction they predict the country’s politics will take.

This interview with Thu Wai, chairman of the Democratic Party (Myanmar), is the first installment of what will be a multi-part series.

How many constituencies will your party contest and what preparations has the party made?

We have not yet made specific preparations for the election and are just engaging in normal activities like recruiting new members, mobilizing support and holding discussions. So far, we have funds to field over 50 candidates for the election and are seeking funds to field more.

Will you personally contest the election?

Yes, I will. Our party secretary Daw Than Than Nu [daughter of former Prime Minister U Nu] said she would also contest. I will contest in constituencies in Yangon.

How does the Democratic Party [Myanmar] get funds? How transparent is it?

At present, I run the party with my own money and donations from friends. We put advertisements in our [party] newspapers for donations. And we also put online advertisements for donations. We have kept detailed accounts since the establishment of our party. This is the principle of our party. You can audit anytime. Again, we don’t accept being bought off.

If the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP] or National League for Democracy [NLD] proposes making an alliance with your party, would you consider it? Is that something you would want?

I do want to work in unison. As of now, we don’t have political relations with the big parties. We are a member of the Federal Democracy Alliance, which is an alliance of 11 political parties and we work in cooperation with fellow members. If big parties propose entering into alliance with us, we’ll take the country’s interests into consideration. I am willing to cooperate with any party across Myanmar as long as we have equality with them.

Does your party have an election campaign slogan?

Our main slogan is, ‘To lead a decent human life is our cause.’ We were born as humans and we should be able to lead a decent human life. By decent human life I mean a life in which individuals need not worry about food, shelter, clothing and health for them and their families. The key to this is the country must be peaceful, developed and there must be job opportunities.

What is your assessment of the state of Burma’s peace process?

I don’t think peace can be achieved before the election. Only the foundation [for peace] can be laid, at most [before the election].

Do you think the election, organized by the Union Election Commission [UEC] chairman and former Lt-Gen Tin Aye, will be free and fair?

I don’t think it will be free and fair. But I am sure the election will be held because it is foremost about the dignity of the government. It has to retain it.

Again, chairman U Tin Aye is a former general and former USDP member. No matter how much he says the election will be free and fair, how can we trust him? But then, when we met, he said he would organize a free and fair election. I hope he will do so.

Do you think the military will voluntarily reduce its role in the country’s politics?

That the military takes 25 percent of seats [in Parliament] works against democracy. They are not elected by the people. The military holds 25 percent of seats in the Parliament as a deterrent because it has held power for a long time and it feels unsafe releasing its grip on power.

What are your thoughts on the role of Snr-Gen Than Shwe? Do you think he is still giving instructions from behind the scenes, like his predecessor U Ne Win reportedly did?

The current democratic reforms were in fact put in place by Snr-Gen Than Shwe. Nothing can be done without his agreement. He gave assignments to initiate reforms. For example, he arranged for U Thein Sein to become president. … The current leaders still pay respect to him and seek his advice. So, he still has big influence.

Since he is free now, he would have to be thinking about how to make his next move. U Than Shwe therefore will continue to have influence over the new government that is elected. He will try to win. I don’t know what he will do or if he will play fairly or unfairly to win. But then again, things may not happen as he expects. It is, however, fair to say that he may continue to give instructions from behind the scenes like his mentor U Ne Win did.

How do you view the NLD? Do you think the opposition party will win a landslide victory?

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi still maintains considerable influence. She still has significant support from people. But the situation has changed. In the 1990 election, the NLD had to compete with the government-backed National Unity Party [NUP] alone. Now, it has a number of challengers, mostly ethnic parties. I think ethnic parties will win majorities in their regions. [Editor’s Note: A total of 93 political parties participated in the 1990 election, compared with more than 80 parties expected to contest this year].

The ruling USDP has power and money. And they have prepared systematically; generals do not go to war without a plan. So, I don’t think the NLD will win a landslide victory like it did before.

What does the new post-2015 government look like in your mind?

At present, the role of the military has grown significantly. It has greater influence, as far as I am concerned. Political parties do not have unity and are blaming and attacking each other. It is because of the political decoys of the government and the military. No party will win a landslide in the coming election. Therefore, there will be mergers, I think, and the military would be happy if it turns out like that. I don’t think the military would seize power. It already has power. The new government will have to coordinate with it.