Myanmar’s Most Powerful Ethnic Group Rejects Junta’s 2023 Poll Plan

By Hein Htoo Zan 14 November 2022

The Karen National Union (KNU) political wing of Myanmar’s oldest ethnic armed group has rejected the junta’s plan for a national election next year, calling it an attempt to legitimize military rule.

The rejection came on Friday at a public meeting of the KNU-led National Unity Committee of Karen Ethnic Armed Groups held in Takaw village, Hlaingbwe township, Karen State. The meeting was attended by leaders of Karen armed groups, religious groups, Karen political parties, and over 1,500 people.

It was called to outline the political approach and objectives of the KNU after almost two years of junta rule in Myanmar since the February 2021 coup.

“The KNU rejected the 2008 Constitution from the beginning but witnessed its destruction when the military seized power from a civilian government,” said a KNU press release.

The 2008 Constitution was written by the previous junta regime to secure the military’s grip on politics.

Among those at the meeting were KNU deputy chair Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win, joint general secretary Padoh Saw Hla Htun, and General Saw Johnny, commander of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the KNU.

“The 2023 election would just be an attempt by the junta’s military council to claim legitimacy and reactivate the 2008 Constitution. Therefore, though we accept democratic practices, we cannot support any activities that could legitimize dictatorship,” the press release said.

The military regime announced its election plan after seizing power from the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD), which won a landslide victory in the 2021 election.

The 2023 election has been rejected by the NLD and most of Myanmar. The US has also urged the international community to reject the poll, warning it would be neither free nor fair and would only fuel more violence.

The KNU is among several powerful ethnic armed groups that have refused the junta’s invitation to peace negotiations this year, saying the talks would be a sham.

The KNLA and allied anti-regime People Defense Forces have been fighting regime troops along the Thai border since last year, inflicting heavy casualties.

Friday’s meeting was also joined by General Dr. Naw Ka Paw Htoo, deputy chair of KNU/KNLA PC; General Saw Htun Hlaing, chair of a Karen Border Guard Force (BGF); Mann Aung Pyae Soe, chair of the Karen Democratic Party (KDP); and Buddhist and Christian leaders.