Local political parties in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state have been working together to strengthen the prospects of their candidates beating those from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party in general elections later this year, politicians and activists said Tuesday.
Other ethnic parties are doing the same as they try to drive up support for their candidates running for legislative seats to reverse the results of the last general election five years ago in which NLD party members dominated.
On March 4, three Kachin parties held a joint conference in the state capital Myitkyina to discuss selecting candidates, financing party activities, and devising strategies to win the elections.
Aung Kham, vice chairman of the Kachin State People’s Party (KSSP) — which comprises the three parties — said ethnic Kachins can actively work on the country’s peace process and regional developments only if local parties win seats in parliament.
“It is very important for us to win seats in parliament in the 2020 election,” he said. “Only when we have MPs can we officially contribute to the peace process and other development issues.”
The combined KSPP won more votes than the NLD in Kachin state in the 2018 by-elections.
Chan Htan Khin, spokesman of the military-backed, opposition Union Solidarity and Development (USDP) in Kachin state, said local parties would offer voters more choices in the upcoming elections.
“There is more transparency now,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “The winning parties cannot lie about their performance during their tenure.”
Voters are now savvier than they were before at assessing the effectiveness of individual candidates, and they will not automatically cast ballots for those endorsed by party leaders, he added.
“People can clearly observe their performance and competency — in real time,” Chan Htan Khin said. “The local ethnic parties will get more votes than they did in previous elections and become an emerging force.”
More Kachin MPs
Voters see the consolidation of local parties as a positive move, said Kachin youth activist Lum Zawng.
“People want to see more MPs from local Kachin parties,” he said. “We have seen see all Kachin civil groups, religious leaders, Kachin youth, and local intellects welcoming the consolidation of local parties.”
The combined KSPP party was formed in late 2018 from the merger of the Kachin State Democracy Party, Kachin Democratic Party, and Kachin State Unity and Democracy Party.
A new party, the Union Nationalities Federal Democratic Party, joined the KSPP in December 2019.
Among the other ethnic parties with aspirations to see their candidates win seats in the 2020 elections are the Law Waw National Unity and Development Party, Kachin State Democracy and Development Party, Lisu National Development Party, and Kachin National Congress party.
Myanmar political analyst Maung Maung Soe pointed out that some communities in the state, such as the Shanni ethnic groups who live in the area along a railway line between Myitkyina and Moe Kaung, will not automatically vote for ethnic parties.
“It is important that the Kachin parties negotiate with the local Shanni parties,” he said. “We cannot tell if the ruling NLD party or USDP will win in the Shanni areas. So, it is not predictable that Kachin parties would win in Kachin state.”
The Shanni, also known as the Red Shan, live in Kachin state and neighboring Sagaing region, and are a subgroup of Myanmar's largest ethnic minority group, the Shan.
In January 2016, the Shanni founded an insurgent group called the Shanni Nationalities Army, which is active in Kachin state.
Relations with ethnic groups
Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been traveling around the country meeting with ethnic communities, including those in Kachin state, in a bid to shore up the NLD’s relations with ethnic groups as the party faces elections.
The meetings follow the formation in September 2019 of a new committee dedicated to engaging and promoting relations with ethnic political parties in the multiethnic country that has seen decades of internal warfare.
Aung San Suu Kyi had made forging peace and creating a democratic federal union the primary goals of her administration after winning elections in 2015.
But her government has grappled with a sputtering peace process marked by ongoing hostilities between national forces and rebel ethnic armies in its far-flung regions, producing hundreds of thousands of displaced villagers.
The rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the state’s main ethnic armed group, has not signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement and continues to engage in fighting with Myanmar forces.
Kachin leaders have backed efforts to amend the 2008 constitution to guarantee ethnic groups equality and self-determination for peaceful coexistence under the federal democratic union Aung San Suu Kyi wants to create.
Reported by Elizabeth Jangma for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.