Ethnic Issues

MNP Chairman: ‘If We Don’t Find a Way to Challenge Them, They Will Never Step Down.’

By Yen Saning 23 July 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.

In this interview, The Irrawaddy speaks with Nai Ngwe Thein, the 93-year-old chairman of the Mon National Party (MNP).

Why did you decide to register the Mon National Democratic Front as the Mon Democracy Party (now the Mon National Party)?

Only with registration could we participate in politics. Now we can explain the 2008 Constitution [to ethnic people] and we can meet and talk about peace and the current political situation. We can hold workshops. Without party registration, we could not do anything.

What are your hopes for the 2015 election?

Winning the election doesn’t mean anything. We cannot change the 2008 Constitution in the Parliament. Whatever people are claiming is nonsense. Take a look at the recent vote in Parliament.

In Parliament, we can only ask such things as when a bridge will be repaired or when middle schools will be upgraded into high schools, etc. People thought they would be able to choose a chief minister after a vote [on constitutional amendments] in Parliament recently. But the vote lost… We will never get self-administration for ethnic people as long as the 2008 Constitution exists.

You contested the 1990 election with the Mon National Democratic Front but boycotted the 2010 poll, are you planning to personally contest the 2015 election?

No. The old people like me will not contest. Only youth and women will contest. The number of women depends on [how many apply].

Will you cooperate with the National League for Democracy (NLD) or other major parties?

No, we do not negotiate with the NLD. If they contest, they can go ahead. They will not avoid our constituencies. They have an NLD office in Mon State.

Will you cooperate with the All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMDP) to avoid directly competing for the same constituencies? Are there plans to collaborate?

No. We have no plan to cooperate in the upcoming election.

Why do you think the two major Mon parties were unable to join to form a single party? Was it due to personality clashes between leaders, as some have suggested?

AMDP is a party that accepts the 2008 Constitution. We do not accept it. We are walking different paths. They want to cooperate with the government; we don’t. We want to draft a new Constitution, as decided by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC).

I said we cannot merge. Some people from our party wanted to do it. It has been over two to three years [of discussions] and nothing happens. We couldn’t do other things as we were just discussing merging. The organizational tasks were stopped. When we were the Mon Democracy Party, they asked for a new party name [ahead of a potential] merger. So we became the Mon National Party. Most people signed an agreement to merge. Then, the AMDP issued a statement saying they would not merge, signed by the AMDP secretary Nwe Soe. Some people from their party moved to our party.

What do you think of the establishment of the Woman’s Party (Mon)? Do you have plans to collaborate ahead of the election?

They are just an NGO-type [party]. We don’t know how they [plan to compete] yet. They haven’t communicated with us.

Will the MNP collaborate with any Mon parties in order for ethnic Mon candidates to win more seats?

We will not collaborate with any party because we are not the same… We don’t accept the Constitution. What if they say they want to amend it?

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the NLD are expected to be the two biggest winners in the 2015 election. Does your party have a preferred electoral outcome? Would you consider working with either of them as part of a governing coalition?

None will win. Wait and see. The most likely outcome is a coalition government. But no one knows how to form it yet. The NLD won’t win a landslide either. There are 440 seats in [the Lower House of] Parliament. But only 330 seats to contest in the election [110 seats are reserved for military appointees]. No party can win all. Some think that if the NLD win in a landslide, people from the USDP will move to the NLD. That’s foolish. They will never do that. [After the election] the country will not change. It will be just the same.

What will the new post-2015 government look like, in your view?

Who will form the government? The USDP. The president can appoint ministers but three are reserved for [army chief] Min Aung Hlaing [to appoint]. The president is not accountable to his ministers and his ministers are not accountable to him… People think they can do [anything] if they become president. Actually… the president can’t even grant amnesty without the approval of the commander-in-chief. They are releasing prisoners now under article 401 [of the code of criminal procedure].

Do you think ethnic nationalities will get equality and a federal state if the NLD performs strongly under Aung San Suu Kyi?

She doesn’t really know about federal systems. Ask her to make sure. What she said is, if the division of power is right, that’s federalism. It’s about more than that.

Is it impossible?

We don’t know how the situation will turn out. People from the NLD came to ask me about federalism. I asked them if they [understood it]. They didn’t. I said, your chairperson [Suu Kyi] didn’t explain it to you? If you guys don’t know, how can you attend meetings to discuss federal principles? We have so many difficulties.

What do you think about amending the 2008 Constitution?

Everyone knows amending it is impossible in the Parliament. We have to find a way to amend it outside of the Parliament… There are various types of people [involved]. We have to challenge them. If workers, students and capitalists come together, they might give in. If we don’t find a way to challenge them, they will never step down. Dictators never give up power.

In chapter one of the Constitution, it refers to a “genuine, disciplined multi-party democratic system.” If it is disciplined, it’s not genuine anymore. The discipline, as set by the government, has to be followed. It destroys democracy… They say the country is unstable due to protest. They say the country is stable when they point guns at people.

How likely is a nationwide ceasefire and political dialogue?

When a ceasefire is discussed, ethnic groups want federal principles [upheld]. Thein Sein said he accepts but we don’t know which model he accepts. If he accepts and they are united, the Constitution must be amended. This Constitution does not account for federal principles.

What is your party’s relationship like with the New Mon State Party (NMSP)? Do they lend their support to one of the Mon parties, or remain neutral? 

We have communication. Our agreement with the UNFC is, we don’t accept the Constitution and will draft a new one. We will not amend it. We will draft it outside of the Parliament. The situation means we cannot do it in the Parliament. We have issued a joint-statement on our support for the decision of the NCCT on the ceasefire and were warned twice by the state election commission. I said we don’t accept your warning unless you declare [the NMSP] an unlawful association. I asked them if the NMSP was an unlawful association; they said no. So, we asked them to revoke their warning.