CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The Chairman of the Karen National Union, Saw Mutu Say Poe, has been re-elected to the post at the organization’s 16th Congress today.
Former general secretary Padoh Kwe Htoo Win was elected as vice chairman. Former central executive committee member Saw Ta Doh Moo was elected general secretary.
The election results suggest that there will be little shift to the KNU’s approach to the peace process and other issues during the upcoming four-year term of the new leadership.
The KNU is one of the key signatories to the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
Burma Army officials in Naypyidaw tried to phone the newly elected leaders to offer their congratulations, according to sources close to the government. However the officials were unable to establish a connection with the KNU Congress at the organization’s headquarters at Lay Wah, also known as Law Khee Lar, in Pa-an District, Karen State.
Saw Mutu Say Poe and his allies now stand unopposed in the group’s leadership, as “hardliners” who have been skeptical of the government’s peace process have been edged out.
Former vice chairperson Naw Zipporah Sein, former joint secretaries Saw Thaw Thee Bwe and Padoh Mahn Mahn, and Gen Saw Baw Kyaw Heh, vice chief-of-staff of the KNU’s armed wing the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) are no longer members of the KNU’s central standing committee.
It is unclear how this group, which is reportedly unsatisfied with the KNU’s current approach to the peace process, will move forward under the new leadership. According to observers, there are concerns that the faction will split from the KNU.
The new leadership is likely to continue to build closer ties with other politicians, business people and Burma Army officials, observers said. More business and development projects in Karen state are expected, while some have expressed concerns that this trend will progress without sufficient consultation with communities.
Last November, retired Gen Than Shwe held a nearly three-hour talk at his residence in Naypyidaw with Saw Mutu Say Poe and Kwe Htoo Win Naypyidaw. Little information was shared about the content of the discussion.
U Ngwe Soe, the executive director of Dawei Princess Co. Ltd and the director of Sun and Rainbow Co., who is known to be close to the KNU chairman, arranged the meeting.
Saw Mutu Say Poe and Padoh Kwe Htoo Win have received both praise and criticism for taking the KNU closer to the government’s peace process. Under their leadership, the group signed an initial ceasefire agreement in 2012 and it signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in 2015.
Saw Hser Pweh, known as Padoh Steve, was elected as the KNU’s joint secretary 1. He has worked with the Committee of Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), a relief organization that contributes aid and supplies to displaced communities in Karen State.
Saw Hla Htun, who is an ally of Saw Mutu Say Poe and who formerly worked with the Karen Youth Organization, was elected as joint secretary 2.
In its third week of its 16th Congress, the KNU also elected 41 central standing committee (CSC) members yesterday.
Another 14 leaders—brigadier generals within the KNU’s seven brigades and chairmen of the KNU’s seven districts—automatically serve as CSC members and will join the 41 elected candidates, making a total of 55 CSC members.
The top five leaders will choose another six CSC members to form the KNU’s central executive committee, a decision making body comprising 11 members.