Interview

Myanmar’s Decentralization Will Boost National Reconciliation: SNLD Spokesman

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 20 November 2020

Yangon — The National League for Democracy (NLD) won 396 seats on the Union Parliament in the Nov. 8 election, securing enough seats to form a government. Shortly before the election, the President’s Office spokesman U Zaw Htay said the NLD was thinking about forming a national unity coalition. Following its electoral victory, the NLD published a letter asking ethnic parties to help establish a federal, democratic union.

The NLD’s Central Information Committee secretary Monywa Aung Shin recently told The Irrawaddy that the letter was the party’s invitation to ethnic parties to join a national government. However, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) said it had not received it.

SNLD spokesman Sai Leik recently told The Irrawaddy’s Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint what the party thinks about a national government and its expectations of the incoming administration.

What does the SNLD think of a national unity government? Will the SNLD participate if invited?

We will know only when we discuss it. For the time being, we don’t know yet what structure they mean by a national government. So it is difficult to give a view.

What is your view on the NLD government’s handling of ethnic issues over the past five years? What are your recommendations for the incoming administration?

We are not satisfied. The NLD will say democracy and fighting are more important [than ethnic issues] and they, therefore, have to focus on civil-military relations. But it is not what the people think.

There were no talks with the political parties so ethnic parties feel that the NLD is giving them the cold shoulder though they have been allies since 1990. Let bygones be bygones.

The question now is what the NLD should do after the election. The first thing it should consider is how to approach a ceasefire. The ultimate goal of ethnic people, either those engaged in armed struggle or those in political parties, is the emergence of a federal union. We want equality. There is a need to officially guarantee it in the Constitution.

The NLD will not able to do it immediately due to restrictions imposed by the 2008 Constitution. But there are many things the party can do without amending the Constitution. For example, it must decentralize power. The regional and state governments under the Constitution have few powers. Their role should be expanded. This is the first thing the NLD should do.

The NLD then needs to discuss with the leaders of political parties and ethnic armed organizations how to guarantee ethnic rights and preserve ethnic identity. If a pact is reached or when the party understands the wishes of ethnic people, there is a need to discuss how to legally guarantee ethnic rights. If the NLD moves toward equality and self-determination, civil war will deescalate.

When the civil wars come to an end, the NLD can negotiate with the Tatmadaw [military] on amending the Constitution. Five more years will be wasted if the wars cannot be stopped and the party does not get on well with the Tatmadaw.

The Tatmadaw will have its own stance on the new administration. Do you think it will accept the NLD giving positions to the leaders of ethnic parties in its government?

We are not sure about what it thinks but its statements suggest it has changed to an extent. The Tatmadaw welcomed the Arakan Army’s statement [to hold the voting during December where voting was canceled on Nov. 8], which is unprecedented. It is notable that the Tatmadaw welcomes the demands of an organization that it declared a terrorist organization.

It seems the Tatmadaw has started to change its mindset.

There were criticisms that the NLD appointed some ethnic leaders to its cabinet just for show after the 2015 general election, like [Deputy Upper House Speaker] U Aye Tha Aung. What are your recommendations for the NLD when forming the new government?

The NLD should consult with ethnic parties first rather than appointing individual politicians from ethnic parties to its cabinet. We have worked with U Aye Tha Aung on the United Nationalities Alliance and Committee Representing the People’s Parliament. As far as we know, the NLD did not consult with [the Arakan National Party] when it considered making him deputy speaker.

I mean consulting with ethnic parties and seeking their input, as opposed to appointing individual members of those parties, is a better way to boost national unity. Even if the NLD has good faith, if it is wrong in the way it acts, it can cause misunderstanding. It would be best to consult ethnic parties if the NLD has good faith. There will be progress only when the NLD and ethnic parties make decisions through consultation.

Before the election, the NLD said it has no plan to cooperate with ethnic parties. Only after the Tatmadaw stated [the civilian government must take responsibility for faults of the Union Election Commission] did the NLD talk about a national unity government. What is your view?

The NLD might have goodwill towards ethnic people but it did not have predetermined plans [for a coalition government]. It was just a response to the military’s statement.

If there is decentralization and regional and state ministers are given greater powers — at present they don’t even have proper offices — and if the NLD appoints members of ethnic parties as chief ministers and devolves greater powers to ministries, it will increase trust.

By doing those things, the NLD will boost national reconciliation and contribute to the stability and peace of our union.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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