Interview

Kokang Party Vows to Make ‘Friends With All’ if It Wins Seats in Myanmar’s Election

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 19 August 2020

Political parties are making preparations for the November election in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone in the northeastern area of Shan State.

Seven seats are up for grabs in Kokang with three parties—the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), United Democratic Party and Shan State Kokang Democratic Party (SSKDP)—running in the election there.

The USDP candidates are members of the leading body of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone. The USDP won in both the 2010 and 2015 general elections in Kokang.

The SSKDP was formed by local Kokang politicians and is preparing to confront the USDP in the November election. SSKDP chairman Antony Su recently talked to The Irrawaddy’s senior reporter Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint about the party’s preparations for the election and the political landscape in Kokang.

Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint: In which constituencies will your party contest? What preparations has your party made?

Antony Su: There are seven seats that are up for grabs in Kokang—two in the Lower House, four in the Shan State Parliament and one in the Upper House. We will run for all seven seats.

We have selected candidates. All of them are men. We encouraged women to run, but they did not put themselves forward. But even the men do not have much political awareness, so the women can be forgiven. Women are focused on their livelihoods. They don’t understand politics. They have no time to engage in politics. There are no female politicians in Kokang.

Laukkai in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone / Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint

Are there any special challenges in competing with a major party like the USDP?

We field candidates in the election due to the requirements of the multi-party democracy system. We are happy if the election is fair, and there is no vote rigging and advanced voting. The losers will be satisfied and the winner can have dignity if the election is fair. However, we have raised objection to advanced voting. Advanced voting paves the way for vote rigging. We were leading in four seats in 2015, and but then lost all due to advance votes.

For example, consider [then Union Vice-President] Dr. Sai Mauk Kham of Lashio [in Shan State]. He won that way [in the 2015 election]. When controversy arose, he confessed that he won due to advance votes.

Are you against advance voting? 

Since the time of Union Election Commission [UEC] chairman U Tin Aye [under the U Thein Sein government], we have opposed organizing advance voting. And we will call on the UEC again not to organize advance voting. It is up to them.

I heard that military personnel will cast ballots at polling stations outside cantonments. That’s good, but military personnel should cast votes independently. Only then, will they earn our respect. No matter which party wins, it will only rule for five years. Let it rule if it has support. Don’t be afraid.

Do you think the upcoming election will be free and fair?

Let bygones be bygones. We have to learn and make corrections if we were wrong. We can’t lie to the people. I think the upcoming election will be better than the 2015 vote.

What is your assessment of the NLD government’s performance regarding the peace process? 

Only when we have armed forces that listen to the people, are controlled by the people, and are able to protect the lives and property of people will we achieve internal peace. Only when we have such armed forces will we have permanent peace. Unless and until that is the case, the civil war will persist.

Laukkai in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone / Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint

What specifically do you mean by “armed forces”?

I mean all the armed groups including Kokang, Karen and all the others, not just the Tatmadaw. There will be peace only when we have armed forces that understand that they hold arms and wear uniforms to protect lives and protect people, and their duty is to protect the lives and property of people.

U Pheung Kya-shin [the leader of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army-MNDAA] has carried out attacks to retake control of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone. What’s the impact of this fighting upon the region? 

I am not a sympathizer of U Pheung Kya-shin. We belong to the same race, Kokang. But they take up arms, while we chose to live in a self-administered zone. I don’t know the plans of U Pheung Kya-shin. No armed group—including U Pheung Kya-shin and the KIA [Kachin Independence Army]—will succeed if they don’t focus their attention on the interests of the people. Our party works for the people.

Our principle is to work for the people from all walks of life. If an armed group does not have that policy, that group is nothing but a group of robbers. I dare say that, and they can come and kill me [if they don’t like being called that]. If the armed groups are to turn themselves into political parties, they must behave like political parties. The parties must control their armed wings. All the problems would be solved if only they cared to work for the people.

Laukkai in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone / Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint

Ethnic revolutionary groups say they are fighting for rights and self-determination of ethnic people. There is, for example, the Kokang Group [MNDAA]. So, my question is what is your view on such ethnic revolutionary groups?

I answer this question only because you ask me. Ethnic people ask for equality, but can they work as well as Bamar people? Does any ethnic group, either Kokang or Kachin, have the same skills as Bamar? Can they do customs, police and education work? No, they can’t. If equal rights are given to those who lack capacity, what will happen to this country? Equal rights are not held by Bamar people. Don’t ask for that. We have to try ourselves to be able sit with Bamar as equals. Kokang have to try, and all the other ethnic groups have to try. When we have the same capacity, we can ask Bamar to come and sit together.

Under the NLD government, the Northern Alliance has targeted roads to disrupt the country’s border trade. As border trade is the main engine of the economy in the Kokang region, what is your view on those attacks? 

Bullets have no eyes. We can be hit by bullets from the Tatmadaw or the Kokang armed group. We have to flee when clashes take place, losing our belongings. And people from 15 villages still can’t return to their homes. I don’t want to say who is right and who is wrong.

It is the people who have to bear the brunt of fighting. All the armed groups must try to protect the lives and property of the people. I mean all the armed groups. They can hold the arms because there must be armed forces in a country. From where do armed groups get the money? People pay them in the form of taxes. The money is not intended for the armed group members to take lesser wives.

Laukkai in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone / Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint

And there are large numbers of casinos in Kokang. What do you want to say about it?

There are also casinos in Singapore. But they are legal, and you can’t just enter them as you please. I mean you can enter it only when you have money. But here, anyone can enter the casinos as they please and problems arise as a result. We endorse legalizing casinos. But don’t kill the people for not being able to repay the money borrowed to bet. I have evidence of that happening.

We allow operation of casinos because of the approval of the [Laukkai] regional operations command chief of the Myanmar military. He only asked us to do the best and avoid problems. But problems happen. We can’t blame him. In their view, the area, being a border town, is not very lively, without fun like casinos.

But there are murders. Casinos are controlled well in Mongla. Problems barely arise there, unlike here. But levying taxes on gambling will never help the development of the country. The gambling business also ruins people. Local people could learn useful vocations, but because there are casinos, they choose to work at them [due to better pay]. They are paid 4,000 to 5,000 yuan [about 780,000 to 980,000 kyats per month], but then they learn nothing. I feel sorry about that.

Still, without casinos, there is nothing else in Laukkai. Only because there are casinos, people from the neighboring country come in. So, people here get jobs. There are four to five casinos in Laukkai. I want the casinos to be legalized so that the government can levy taxes. But, they have existed since the area was under the control of U Pheun Kya-shin.

Laukkai in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone / Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint

I found that there are armed guards at the casinos.

The bosses employ guards and have armed them. They can hold arms for security reasons.

Are their arms licensed? 

You had better ask this question to the military. We don’t know. It is the concern of the Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s military].

Were culprits in murder cases at casinos apprehended? 

As I’ve said, murder is not good. It is not good whether a person is killed rightfully or wrongfully. The situation is not much different from Lower Myanmar. Some cases were solved, and some cases weren’t.

Laukkai in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone / Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint

How would you like to see Kokang develop in the future? 

If we are lucky enough to win the majority in Kokang, we will make friends with all. All including Tatmadaw are friends. Nobody shall harm our three main national causes. We will give top priority to education, and then health. We want to open the best schools that teach Kokang, Burmese and English.

And we want to open a high-standard hospital in each township in Kokang. For example, hospitals with all the diagnostic facilities for COVID-19; hospitals where patients can receive one-stop service without needing to go to Lower Myanmar or Singapore. We will send party members to Singapore and fellow ASEAN countries to learn what can be done in our region. The USDP has been in office in Kokang for 10 years. But they haven’t gone on a study trip abroad. If we won, we would seek permission from the Union government, and go on study trips. And we would submit reports and design [regional development] plans after we come back. The biggest market [China] is just beside us. China is short of cattle. If only we can do breeding, we can export right away.

Laukkai in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone / Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint

There are many things that need to be done in Kokang, like levying tax on exports and imports. There is the existing Yan Long Kyaing border gate, and we can legalize other gates, and levy taxes. We will give a certain percentage of the taxes to the Union government, and spend the rest on development of Kokang. Taxes are levied now, but I don’t know where all the money has gone.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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