Ethnic Parties Join Forces Following Criticism of NLD

By Moe Myint 19 May 2016

RANGOON — Representatives from the two largest ethnic political parties in the Union Parliament—the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and the Arakan National Party (ANP)—held an impromptu meeting during lunch in Naypyidaw on Wednesday, agreeing to form a united front when submitting proposals on ethnic affairs or amending important laws.

SNLD Lower House lawmaker Sai One Leng Kham said that during the meeting, they discussed parliamentary procedures and the role of the ethnic bloc in the legislature.

According to Sai One Leng Kham, 12 SNLD and 22 ANP parliamentarians participated in the discussion.

This marked the first meeting between ANP and SNLD lawmakers since the new government was formed in April. The two groups are members of the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), a group of 13 ethnic parties, led by the SNLD.

“We don’t have any official agreement between us,” said Sai One Leng Kham.

The ANP had previously been allied with the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), which in 2010 won more than half the seats in the Shan State parliament. The SNDP, however, was tainted by its association with the previous government, and only secured one seat in the state legislature in the 2015 election, leading the ANP to draw closer to the more powerful SNLD.

ANP Lower House parliamentarian Khin Saw Wai said the two parties planned to reach out to other ethnic political parties, such as the Ta’ang National Party and the Zomi Congress for Democracy.

Two weeks ago, Lower House Speaker Win Myint of the National League for Democracy (NLD) rejected Khin Saw Wai’s proposal regarding support for displaced Arakanese who fled their homes after fighting broke out between the Arakan Army and the Burma Army. This led ethnic political commentators to criticize the NLD for minimizing ethnic issues.

SNLD chairman Khun Htun Oo told reporters on May 7 on the sidelines of a UNA meeting that the ethnic groups could not rely on the NLD to take care of their affairs.

However, the ANP’s Khin Saw Wai told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the meeting between the ANP and SNLD was not a result of the UNA conference or the house speaker’s rejection of her proposal, and emphasized the common ground between the ethnic parties and the NLD.

“We ethnic politicians worked with the NLD to block the implementation of Proportional Representation,” she said, referring to a plan by the previous government to change the electoral process to the disadvantage the NLD.