The Karen National Union will hold its 16th Congress in March at its headquarters in Hpa-an’s Lay Wah in Karen State after it was postponed last month.
The planned three-week Congress, which will commence on March 14, will bring together representatives from the KNU’s seven administrative districts: Thaton, Nyaunglebin, Hpa-an, Papun, Duplaya, Toungoo and Dawei areas.
The Congress will select its future leaders including central committee members and departmental heads. The last Congress was held in Nov. 2012.
After the initial postponement of the 2016 KNU Congress in November, there was speculation that the KNU did not want a change in leadership during the ongoing peace process, following a nationwide ceasefire agreement with the former government in 2015.
KNU chairman Saw Mutu Say Poe is known to have good relations with both the previous government led by former President U Thein Sein and Burma Army commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing. Despite internal fractions and disagreement, the KNU ended almost seven decades fighting with the Burma Army in 2012 with a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
“It doesn’t really matter if the old leaders are replaced as long as the organization maintains its stance on the basic principle of finding political solutions through dialogue,” said Padoh Mann Mann, a KNU secretary.
“We have different views on the process but we all respect the policies imposed by our Congress,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Many ethnic Karen share the view that the peace process should go on gradually while paving the way for all-inclusion.
“We must give the peace process time,” said Naw K’Nyaw Paw Nimrod, secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO), “as we intend to build a federal union, but not all groups are able to take part yet.”
“The situation is getting worse now as the conflicts in northern Shan State continue,” she added.
The KNU Congress convening committee will invite Karen civil society groups, Karen political parties and ethnic Karen resettled abroad, said Mann Mann, and encouraged the representation of women in Congress to be 30 percent or greater.
The KNU has one woman, vice chairperson Padoh Naw Zipporah Sein, in its eleven central leadership positions despite having set a 30 percent quota for women in political leadership.
Naw K’Nyaw Paw Nimrod told The Irrawaddy that Karen women leaders should be encouraged to participate at the district levels and that at least five women representatives from each district were needed to reach the 30 percent quota.
The KWO has been invited to be represented with two women representatives at the Congress.
They want to see changes in leadership in which more young people and women are represented.
“We respect and acknowledge our elders who have contributed a lot throughout their lifetimes for revolutionary causes, but we want more youth and fresh faces at the leadership level,” Naw K’Nyaw Paw added.