Biggest Shan Political Parties to Consider Merger

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 1 April 2014

RANGOON — The two biggest political parties in Shan State will soon discuss the possibility of joining forces ahead of the 2015 general elections, a party leader says.

Pressure is mounting for the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) to team up with the increasingly popular Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), which formed in 2012. After three MPs recently resigned from the SNDP, including two who switched allegiance to the SNLD, both parties plan to meet soon to consider their options for future collaboration, according to Sai Nyunt Lwin, secretary of the SNLD.

“Two MPs joined the SNLD last week: Sai San Pey and Sai Win Myat Oo. The Shan people want us to work together, so we’re going to discuss in detail with the SNDP in late May or early June,” he told The Irrawaddy. By working together, he added, “I believe we can compete against the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and the National League for Democracy party in Shan State in the general elections.”

He said the two parties might also merge for the by-elections, scheduled for later this year.

The SNDP, also known as the White Tiger Party, formed in 1988 and became the biggest party in Shan State. It won 57 seats in Parliament during the 2010 general elections and one seat during by-elections in 2012. SNDP lawmakers have gone on to become state government ministers and union deputy ministers.

The SNLD did not compete in the 2010 general elections because it was formed in 2012. Since then, however, it has grown to become Shan State’s most popular party, with more members than the SNDP.

Last week the SNLD announced at a conference in the capital of Shan State that it would contest the 2015 general elections. Following the announcement, some SNDP members have called for a merger with the SNLD to be more competitive against other large parties around the country.

Sai Than Maung, an SNDP lawmaker representing the constituency of Kyaukme Township, said he had not yet decided whether to join the SNLD. However, he said many Shan people had signed signature campaigns calling for a collaboration of both parties ahead of 2015.

“Leaders from the SNLD and the SNDP have some opposing ideas, but the Shan people want them to work together. … If the SNLD competes in the elections, they will be stronger than the SNDP in Shan State,” he said.

“Although I have not switched to the SNLD, I can say the SNLD is more popular now than the SNDP in Shan State. This is because the SNDP requires its members to be [university] graduates if they want to contest an election.”

One of the biggest points of divergence between the two parties is the question of compulsory military service. Unlike the SNLD, the SNDP has called for all Shan men to join the Burmese military for a short period of time.

Divisions are also forming within the SNDP. Last week, Sai Jarm Pey (aka Sai San Pey), an MP representing Mongyai Township, told the Shan Herald Agency for News that he disagreed with SNDP chairman Sai Aik Pao’s demand for a federal union in Burma based on 14 states. “This was not acceptable,” the MP was quoted as saying.

The SNLD, in contrast, has called for a federal union based on only eight states.

The former military regime divided Burma into seven states and seven divisions. The divisions are mainly ethnic Bamar areas, while the states are ethnic minority areas. But many ethnic minority groups are calling to scrap the distinction between states and divisions.

The SNDP chairman’s vision would be for the seven divisions to each become a state. The SNLD’s proposal would see the seven divisions merge into one state.