U Thein Tun Oo, the spokesperson of the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), recently talked to The Irrawaddy’s reporters Htet Naing Zaw, Moe Moe and Kyaw Myo about the party’s plan to contest the by-election in November, its hopes for the 2020 general election, membership, views on the current political landscape, the country’s peace process and the party’s efforts to enhance its image.
What preparations has your party made to contest the upcoming by-election?
We’ve pondered whether or not to contest the by-election, mainly because of the lack of credibility of the election commission. If you ask me if we have complete trust in the commission now, we are not 100 percent there yet.
But we heard through our party offices in concerned constituencies that local people want us to contest the by-election. They want to rely on us because they believe that we would do our best to serve their interests.
What I can confirm is that we will contest for all of the seats in the country’s various regions. But we won’t contest in most of the states so that ethnic parties can contest there.
Does your party expect to win the 2020 general election and form the government? What do you expect from that poll?
We hope to get a respectable share of the seats in the 2020 election and we have been training our party members to reach that goal. We listen to the voices of the people and point out the shortcomings of the government, as well as threats to the sovereignty of our country. We have made it easy for local people to communicate with our local chapters so that they can seek help anytime in case of emergencies or disasters. And we donate from our own pockets or solicit donations for disaster victims, for example, flood victims.
As we have made ourselves ready to fulfill the wishes, expectations and needs of the people, we believe that we will get a dignified share of seats in the 2020 election.
Has the membership of the USDP increased since U Than Htay took charge of the party?
Chairman U Than Htay has been reforming the party to make it acceptable to the people. Reforms have been made and are still being made to dispel people’s suspicions.
And there are many people who have become frustrated with the performance of the ruling party. As a result, more than 1,000 people have joined our party under the leadership of U Than Htay. New members have joined the party this month in Magwe, Mandalay and Irrawaddy Region.
What do you think of the peace efforts of the current government?
There were many peace experts during the time of President U Thein Sein. They held cordial talks with [ethnic stakeholders] for peace although they previously fought with them. And many of them are still involved in the peace process under the new government. But I don’t know what is wrong. We think the progress is slow compared to the time of previous government. Because of the slow progress, the current government has focused more on the peace process.
But, people want development and secured livelihoods. They want to be able to find jobs. But then, the current government only focuses on peace. So, there is no balance.
It is also the concept of our government that only when there is peace, will there be prosperity. But when we were in office, we worked for peace and livelihoods of the people at the same time. The current government has not done enough to secure the livelihoods of the people although it is working for peace.
Your party was formed by the army, and public perception of your party is therefore not very good. What reforms will your party make to polish its image?
The Union Solidarity and Development Association was formed under the Tatmadaw government. We have been two separate entities since we registered as a political party when the country switched to a multi-party democracy system according to the Constitution.
Parties are formed with people. And it is important to differentiate clearly between the policies of the party and individual members of the party.
If a party has no good policy, system or objective, then it is a bad party. But if the party has good policies, and some individual members of the party are not good, that has nothing to do with the party.
If people can distinguish between party policies and party members, they will be able to correctly judge if our party is good or not.
Our party was in office from 2010 to 2015. You can compare the current government with us year by year or over a five-year term. I don’t believe that we don’t match up to them. We are ready for comparison.
The ruling party has been in office for nearly three years. What do you think of its performance so far?
I will point out what I think based on our policy. We focused on poverty reduction for the social development of the people. The then president [U Thein Sein] articulated it in his inaugural speech. Only when every individual earns a decent livelihood, will a country develop. If a government fails to take care of the livelihoods of its individuals, public support will decline over time. This is our opinion.
Another policy that we’ve always talked about is Our Three Main National Causes—non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuity of sovereignty. We work based on these three principles to avoid foreign interference in our internal affairs. People will understand the advantages and disadvantages of the policies of the current government regarding this.
If the government wants to establish rule of law, it is necessary that law enforcement organizations work strictly in line with the law. Only then, will it be able to handle it more effectively.
But we should welcome that their anti-corruption efforts are gaining momentum. It is not possible to completely root out corruption. I would suggest that the government should ensure a decent living for [poorly-paid] civil servants in fighting corruption.
It needs to strike a balance between fighting corruption and ensuring a decent living for civil servants. The government should also focus on educating people about corruption, I’d suggest.
There is widespread speculation that Myanmar Army Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing will become the next president. The Tatmadaw is granted 25 percent of the seats constitutionally and people say that if USDP wins 26 percent in the next general election, the two could elect the senior-general as the next president. What do think about that?
We don’t think about percentage. We honestly believe that we will win a respectable share of the seats. If we do that and there is support for us, the person who people really want and need will become the president.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.