Women’s Political Party Backs Down Amid Govt Pressure to Change Name

By Yen Saning 2 June 2015

RANGOON — In an unexpected about-face, a political party founded by women in eastern Burma has accepted the government’s request to make its name less inclusive.

The Woman’s Party, which applied for registration approval with the Union Elections Commission (UEC) in April, received a letter from the board requesting that it change its name to something “more specific,” preferably with something “in front of or behind” the word “woman.”

UEC Deputy Director Hla Maung Cho told The Irrawaddy in May that the name “Woman’s Party” was seen as too general, as it could appeal to all women across the country.

The party’s leadership initially refused to comply on the grounds that the party, while founded by ethnic Mon women, was meant to grow and develop chapters nationwide.

Last week, however, the central committee changed course and registered as the Woman’s Party (Mon), which the UEC approved of. Party Chairwoman Mi Than Shin, also known as Mi Layaung Mon, told The Irrawaddy that the party leadership did not view the addendum as a complete concession.

“We were told by the UEC that our choice of name was too general because it represented all women in Burma, and they couldn’t allow it,” Mi Than Shin said. “We can’t back down now… so we didn’t change the name, we just put the word ‘Mon’ in parentheses, as we are based in Mon State.”

Mi Than Shin said the Woman’s Party (Mon) hopes to contest in every constituency in Mon State, but it will ultimately depend on the state’s two dominant parties and the will of local monks. She said the party plans to spend the coming months traveling throughout the state to consult with local communities and gauge support before deciding which constituencies are feasible.

“Depending on the monks, the public and the two Mon parties [the All Mon Region Democracy Party and the Mon National Party], we will contest in every place they give us,” Mi Than Shin said. “If possible, we would like to contest in every place, but we still have to negotiate so as not to cause conflict.”

The Woman’s Party (Mon) was founded in October of last year with the aim of increasing female representation in politics by creating an inclusive and welcoming space for women of all ethnicities to participate in governance.

The party courted controversy from the start, as detractors claimed that a new party based in Mon State risked further fracturing an already disparate leadership among the ethnic minority.

Elsewhere in the country, the party has seen growing support among ethnic minority women, according to Mi Than Shin. Burma has the lowest percentage of women in its national Parliament of any country in the entire region, about five percent, while women’s regional representation is only about four percent.

While some political parties have adopted voluntary measures to increase the number of women seeking candidacy, Burma does not have any existing legislative or constitutional tools to address the issue.