Ethnic Issues

Kachin Party Leader: ‘We Work for the State’s People, Not Just One Race’

By Nyein Nyein 24 July 2015

About 20 political parties are preparing to contest in war-torn Kachin State during Burma’s upcoming general election on Nov. 8, among them the ruling party-backed Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State (UDPKS). Despite its affiliation with the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)—the political reincarnation of the country’s former military regime—the UDPKS’s two Union Parliament lawmakers have been outspoken on the state’s affairs and the peace process over the last several years. Relatively small compared with other ethnic political parties, the UDPKS plans to contest about one-fourth of the Kachin State parliament’s 38 elected seats and three seats at the Union level. 

With more than 80 political parties expected to compete in the poll nationwide, 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 what challenges they face in this crucial election year. In this interview, The Irrawaddy speaks with Doi Bu, a current Lower House lawmaker representing Injangyang Township and the joint-secretary of the UDPKS.

Will you personally contest in the upcoming election?

Yes, I will represent my current constituency, N’Jang Yang [Injangyang] Township in Kachin State, for a Lower House Parliament seat in the upcoming general election.

How many candidates from your party will contest?

Last election, there were nine people contesting. For this year, our party is carefully selecting the constituencies and we will have about 13 or 14 candidates, including in Myitkyina, Njang Yang, Bhamo, Moe Mauk and Shwe Gu townships. Most of them will be for the state parliament, but me and our chair [who is] the current Upper House lawmaker U Khet Htain Nan and a new candidate will contest for the Union Parliament.

How many seats do you expect to win in your state’s parliament?

We aim for 100 percent, to win every seat we plan to contest, therefore we plan to contest only a few seats. We are also giving space to candidates of other parties, which are represented by good people. Because we have to collaborate with other parties either in the state or Union parliaments, we expect other decent people from different parties would be there, so we are avoiding contesting in all constituencies.

In 2010, our preparation for the contest was rushed; the party was formed three months before the general election in November 2010, and four out of nine contestants were elected; two in the state and two in the Union Parliament. We did not have any experience at that time.

What about women’s representation in your party, other than you?

About four women will vie, including me, but we will know exactly when we register all of our candidates. We think the Upper and Lower houses need our representation, there is much needed to be done at the Union level, not only at the state level. We know that we cannot reach many people in the whole state, so we are focused on our targeted constituencies. We, as union lawmakers, were able to do a lot after being elected in 2010. Despite having only a few people, our new candidates will include educators and professors.

What are your party’s principle policies?

We address the issues as they come up, which can be at any time, because we cannot anticipate what issues will come up.

What will be your election campaign slogan?

We haven’t chosen one at this time, but we believe our actions are more significant than a slogan. Unlike Western countries—where democracy is established and it is easy for voters to vote for a specific party—there are many different political parties with very similar aims. It is better to look into the candidates’ capacity than the party itself.

Which are the main rival parties for you in Kachin State?

We have the National League for Democracy [NLD] and Kachin parties [such as the Kachin State Democracy Party]. Although we are based in Myitkyina, we do not focus on only one race or ethnicity.

We represent all the different races—Kachin, Burman, Shan, Gurkha, Chinese—who live in Kachin State. We work for the state’s people, not one race.

In my constituency N’Jang Yang, we Kachin are the main ethnic group, so those race-focused parties have become my rivals. But the USDP will not contest in most of our constituencies, as we have reached an understanding. They will not contest in my constituency, but they might contest in some other constituencies. [Editor’s note: The USDP has said it intends to contest all 1,171 constituencies at play in the general election]

Will you merge with any of the other [Kachin] parties?

Because we intend to work for all the state’s people, and not only for one race, it is hard to come together as one single party; even those parties that aim to work [exclusively] for the Kachin ethnicity cannot establish common goals.

With about 20 parties contesting in Kachin State, why should people vote for yours?

We believe that every party tries to work for the development of the public and our country. Each party’s aims are good. But we have to be careful that the public should think about the candidates’ skills more than their parties. What can they [the candidates] do? When the candidates are elected to the parliaments, all have to collaborate. This time I think we will have a coalition government between the USDP and the NLD. No party can win a landslide. But for some states, an ethnic party might win.

Voters should look into the moral decency of the candidates and then second, how capable they are. The moral decency is the priority because without it, our country will collapse. Those who possess these two criteria would serve the people well. Although it is easy to say things, it is hard to do them when you are in the legislative realm. There are many challenges to overcome, I can say in my five years’ experience as a legislator. Therefore, we are choosing candidates who have capacity, not based on quantity.

Are you confident that the state-level electoral commission will administer the polls fairly?

I believe they will act fairly and in accordance with the laws. But we have to monitor their actions closely too, so that we can see whether their actions are right or wrong.

Do you think the election can be held in every constituency of Kachin State, which is currently facing war?

I believe the election for the Union Parliament could be held in each constituency. But in my constituency in 2010, there was no electoral action in N’Jang Yang and Sumprabum [townships]. The current clashes, after the breakdown of the ceasefire in June 2011, are in Momauk, Hpakant and lately in Sumprabum.

My constituency is outside the conflict area, but I am closely watching the situation. Last election, there was no election for state parliament in my constituency. But this year, the constituency has changed a lot in terms of regional development and peace and there is no fighting. I want the current peace negotiators [in Rangoon this week] to talk about the stability of the region so that the election can be held. If the election cannot be held, it is a loss for the public.

You have joined peace negotiations in the past. Why are you not included in the current talks?

We were not allowed to participate at first, but after we insisted, we were invited to participate in the talks with the ethnic armed groups and government minister U Aung Min in Myitkyina back in 2013. We were able to bring the state’s issues to the table. We spoke openly and directly about the issues, so the government and the Tatmadaw [Burma Army] did not like us. We spoke frankly, thus we were not invited subsequently.

How long do you think the military will maintain its role in parliamentary politics?

We want to reduce their participation in parliamentary politics, but the current Constitution makes it easy for them to be in the political arena. It is hard to tell when they might leave this arena. I think they will concentrate on defense matters when we have a new commander in chief who thinks the Tatmadaw should work only to protect its country.

How are you handling the criticism about your ties with the ruling USDP, a military-backed party?

We have to thank those people for not spitting on us [laughs]. We faced a lot of criticism because we allied with the USDP [when the party formed in 2010]. Despite that, we have pointed out the wrongdoings of our ally, the ruling party.

The public’s understanding has gradually changed, but some still lack trust in us. Therefore, we feel that our efforts have been delayed and are not progressing as they should be. Because we allied with the government party, we were faced with two thorns—public mistrust and the government’s anger because they [USDP] feel their ally is attacking them. Over these last five years, we have courageously taken on those challenges. Now we even see some parties using it against us in their campaigns. But we keep up our efforts. We are like ‘commandos’; we work for our people, not for the government.