The Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) has proposed to merge with its rival the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) in order to secure more votes in the 2020 general elections.
On Saturday the SNDP sought advice on the best way to approach the elections from the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU)—a coalition of the SNDP, SNLD, Shan ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), civil society groups and women and youth organizations.
The CSSU is currently chaired by Gen. Yawd Serk of the Restoration Council of Shan State, an EAO signatory to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA).
“We have presented our consensus to the CSSU as it is a uniquely respectable coalition,” said SNDP vice-chairman Sai Hla Kyaw, referring to a letter sent from the SNDP to the CSUU on Saturday.
Sai Hla Kyaw told The Irrawaddy his party would wait for a response and consider ways of moving forward. The SNDP wants to either become a newly merged party or split constituencies to contest in 2020 in order to compete with national parties.
SNLD spokesperson Sai Nyunt Lwin said they have not discussed merging because they have not received any formal letter on the subject.
“The immediate merger might cause some difficulties, but we all share similar principles of upholding the interests of our nationalities, so that should not be problem. The year 2020 is not very far from now, and if we could work together, both sides would have mutually benefited,” added Sai Hla Kyaw.
The SNDP has made offers of a merger with the SNLD since 2012, with both parties meeting to discuss a union for the first time in May 2014, in Shan State capital Taunggyi.
The parties are yet to hold more meetings on a merger. In March 2016, following the SNDP’s fifth congress, the SNDP released a statement saying it would not dissolve the party or merge with any other party.
The SNLD is the more prominent of the parties and enjoys more public support. Before the 2015 elections, 17 SNDP members switched to the SNLD to contest the elections.
The SNLD holds 46 seats in all three parliaments – state, Lower House, and Union – winning 40 in the 2015 elections and six in the 2017 by-election. The SNDP has one state parliament seat overall, won in 2015.
Sai Hla Kyaw said the idea of a merger was driven by the desires of the Shan public, who have long urged for the two parties to be unified.
The SNDP was formed in late 2010 by former SNLD members and contested in the 2010 and 2015 elections. The SNLD was formed in October 1988 and became the second biggest winner countrywide in the 1990 elections, the results of which were ignored by the junta.
The party then shunned the 2010 elections and re-registered in 2012 after its leaders, including chairman Hkun Tun Oo and Sai Nyunt Lwin, were released from long-term imprisonments.
There are about 18 political parties in Shan State and about two thirds of them are trying to collaborate under the League for Shan State Ethnic Political Parties (LSSEP) for the 2020 elections, Sai Hla Kyaw explained.
In order to beat the majority Burman-dominated national political parties such as the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) and the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), many ethnicities have urged the leaders of their own ethnic political parties leaders to merge.
But not all attempts across the country have proved fruitful, with conflicting policies preventing mergers.
In Rakhine State, the Arakan National Party in 2013 from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party and the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) in order to compete in the 2015 elections. The party split earlier this year, however, and the ALD re-registered with the Union Election Commission in July.
In each of the Mon, Chin and Kachin states, the respective ethnic political parties are attempting a unified party, but efforts have so far been unsuccessful.