RANGOON — Three political parties organized a first-of-its-kind ethnic conference in Karenni State this week, with about 300 people from political parties, civil society and government gathering in the state capital Loikaw to air grievances and discuss the country’s political future.
The three-day conference, which ended on Wednesday, addressed challenges faced by those living in Burma’s smallest state, such as access to education and health care, inadequate electricity provision and poor transportation infrastructure. Also up for discussion was the ongoing peace process involving the government and Burma’s ethnic armed groups, and nationwide elections due late this year.
The conference was organized by the Kayan National Party, All Nationals’ Democracy Party (Kayah State) and Kayah Unity Democracy Party, and included attendees from across Karenni State’s seven townships. The three parties have pledged to ally in the upcoming national election, hoping to win more seats by cooperating rather than competing for votes.
Saw Daniel, chairman of the Kayah Unity Democracy Party (KUDP), told The Irrawaddy: “We discussed the public’s hardships. For example, in the electricity sector, the public has paid money to get electricity but in reality they cannot get it and the regional government is not accountable for it.”
The issue is a particularly sensitive one, according to Saw Daniel, because only one-third of Karenni State’s residents have electricity despite the state being the site of the Lawpita hydropower dam, a major supplier of electricity countrywide.
Kyaw Htin Aung, a member of the Union of Karenni State Youth (UKSY) central committee, told The Irrawaddy that an increase in the state’s primary school dropout rate was also discussed.
“When a child starts primary education, the child cannot understand Burmese and the teachers are not experts in our ethnic language, so primary school dropouts have increased,” said Kyaw Htin Aung, adding that the problem stemmed the government’s practice of hiring teachers from other states where the predominant spoken language is Burmese.
Ahead of this week’s gathering, UKSY took a survey of public opinion throughout Karenni State and submitted the results to the conference, offering a snapshot of state residents’ views on 12 topics ranging from the public’s understanding of the peace process within and beyond Karenni State to matters concerning the environment, education and economy.
Saw Daniel said that recurring concerns included land confiscation, exploitive tax collection by both armed rebel groups and the government and a lack of doctors at the state’s hospitals.
“We will push the regional government to act on the information we received from this event,” said Saw Daniel, who added that the trio of allied political parties would prioritize the outcomes of the conference if elected. The parties would also ensure that the issues are brought to the attention of relevant stakeholders during the political dialogue that is expected to follow the as yet unrealized signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement, the KUDP chairman said.