Ethnic Bloc Seeks Powerbroker Role in Next Parliament

By Moe Myint 22 July 2015

RANGOON — A coalition of 23 ethnic political parties is targeting around 150 constituencies in the Union Parliament in the coming general election, aiming to elect a bloc with enough leverage to help determine the shape of the next government.

Saw Than Myint, spokesman for the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF), told The Irrawaddy that the alliance of 23 parties was aiming to capture a quarter of Naypyidaw’s 664 seats in the Nov. 8 poll.

Pointing to the rise of the vote for ethnic parties between the 1990 and 2010 elections, Saw Than Myint said the NBF was well placed to increase its representation in the Union Parliament and press the post-2015 government into greater recognition of ethnic issues.

“The previous election results are the best example,” he said, noting that in areas like Arakan State, NBF coalition members had won more than three quarters of contested seats. “Every ethnic party won in their regions and none of them can be defeated now, especially in Shan, Mon and Arakan.”

Saw Than Myint is also the deputy chairman of the Federal Union Party, formed in 2013 by former members of 16 ethnic political parties in an attempt to unite the country’s myriad ethnic groups under one banner.

The NBF is holding a conference in Loikaw from July 27-28, after which it will announce candidate lists, the constituencies it will contest and policy agreements between the coalition’s member parties. The coalition also plans to announce candidates for each of the country’s 29 union and regional ethnic ministries.

Founded in the aftermath of the 2010 elections, the NBF has grown from five to 23 member parties from across the country. Its elected members include 158 of the 188 ethnic party lawmakers across the country, including 24 seats in Naypyidaw’s Upper House and 42 in the Lower House.

Should the coalition sweep the field in November and remain united, the next government would be forced to negotiate with either the NBF or the military—which maintains a 25 percent allocation of the seats in every legislature across the country—in the formation of the next executive and any future tilts at constitutional reform. Saw Than Myint has told The Irrawaddy the NBF has no intention of negotiating an alliance with the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) ahead of the election.

How the bloc will fare in the poll and beyond remains to be seen. The NBF will use next week’s conference to attempt a resolution to some potentially contentious issues, including the demarcation of constituencies between its members. U Win Myint, a chairman of the Inn National Development Party, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that his party has not been able to determine how many seats it will contest because it will need to negotiate with other coalition partners based in Shan State.

Members of the NBF also fear that their representation will be diminished by ongoing conflicts in Kachin and Shan areas, affecting the prospects of Palaung and Kokang coalition partners. Sai Hla Kyaw, an NBF spokesman, said that clashes between the Burma Armed Forces and ethnic armed groups could lead to the cancelation of polls in some seats, as was the case in the 2010 election.

Next week’s conference will also consider the extent to which NBF members will coordinate policy and whether the bloc will seek to aim for a set percentage of female candidates, after two other parties began trialing gender quotas earlier in the year.

Lower House lawmaker Khin Saw Wai, a member of the Arakan National Party, said that existing NBF policies were beneficial for women but a designated number of female candidates was important to the coalition’s electoral prospects, particularly considering the NLD’s efforts to target female and ethnic parties.