Powerful Shan Party Refuses to Re-Register Under Myanmar Junta’s New Law

By The Irrawaddy 20 March 2023

The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) is one of the most powerful political parties in Myanmar. Founded in 1988, the SNLD has strongly rejected the poll proposed by Myanmar’s military regime. The party has decided not to register with the junta-appointed Union Election Commission (UEC), even though the new Political Parties Registration Law enacted by the regime in February requires political parties to re-register with the UEC within two months or face dissolution.

The SNLD won 42 seats in the 2020 general election, the third-highest number of seats at the national level. It also won the second-highest number of seats in the 1990 general election.

One previous SNLD party chair, Khun Tun Oo, resigned from the National Convention staged by the previous military regime to draft the 2008 Constitution. Khun Tun Oo and SNLD party secretary Sai Nyunt Lwin were also prosecuted and jailed on an array of charges including high treason for founding the Shan State Consultative Council in February 2005. The men were released in 2012.

SNLD general secretary Sai Leik talked to The Irrawaddy recently about the party’s decision not to re-register with the junta-controlled UEC, and how the party will continue to play a role in Myanmar’s politics regardless.

We heard that the SNLD will not re-register with the UEC. Why?

Firstly, it is difficult to travel because of security concerns. We don’t have enough time to meet party members and seek their opinions. It is especially difficult to meet our party members in Kayah and Kachin states.

Secondly, we don’t think it is fair to order political parties to re-register when the regime hasn’t announced the day the election will be held. So we have decided not to register.

If you don’t re-register the SNLD faces being dissolved, its members possibly arrested and its assets potentially seized. How will the SNLD survive?

They [the junta] haven’t enacted an election law. And they haven’t announced the day of the election. The military has extended its rule, using what it calls an extraordinary situation as an excuse. So can the election law be enacted in an extraordinary situation?

If we don’t re-register, our registered status will be annulled. But we don’t think the regime will take punitive action for failing to register. There are previous cases. Formerly, they asked political parties to get their financial records audited. But some parties refused and [the military] didn’t do anything to them.

Anyway, as they call it an extraordinary situation, we should expect unusual circumstances and we have braced ourselves for that.

Some ethnic parties have re-registered, saying that elections are the foundation of democracy and that an election will help solve the current political crisis. What is your view on that?

It is just an assumption that an election is the way out of the current political crisis. But the question is when and how that election will be held and what the election law says. Nothing is ready yet. And the most important thing is that we need to make sure that the election can bring about change.

If the election can’t trigger positive change for the country, it can’t be the answer. Rather than one party hastily holding the election, it would be more meaningful if we all work together for a poll that is acceptable and beneficial to the Myanmar people and that the international community would recognize, and that meets the democratic norms and would definitely bring democratization to the country.

How will the SNLD engage in politics if it is dissolved?

We are a member of the Committee for Shan State Unity. We once issued a statement as a member. We have a policy for the peaceful co-existence of all people living in the Union. There are many things that we can do for the betterment for the country, either in the peace process or social welfare work or research work.

We in the SNLD will always do our part for the interests of the country by representing and helping the people. We will continue to help the people.