Monday, August 21, 2017

Myanmar's SNDP pushes Shan party merger

Shan Nationalities Democratic Party leader U Sai Aik Paung (L) at the party’s national convention in Taunggyi in December 2010. (Aye Zaw Myo/The Myanmar Times)Shan Nationalities Democratic Party leader U Sai Aik Paung (L) at the party’s national convention in Taunggyi in December 2010. (Aye Zaw Myo/The Myanmar Times)

Shan Nationalities Democratic Party leaders say they are open to a merger with a rival Shan party before the 2015 election to better compete against the National League for Democracy and Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Speaking ahead of his party’s national convention in Tachileik on January 2-4, SNDP vice chairman U Sai Hsaung Hsi said a merger with the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy was in the interests of the Shan people.

“There are likely to be two Shan parties in Shan State for the 2015 election and if these two merge into one, they will be stronger. They can have enough strength to compete against the two giant parties,” he told The Myanmar Times last week.

The SNLD, which contested the 1990 election, was deregistered in 2010 but re-registered earlier this year after its leader, U Khun Htun Oo, was released from prison in January. The SNDP was formed by former SNLD members to compete in the 2010 election, in which it won more than 50 seats at the national and state levels.

“We all originated from the SNLD. The NLD didn’t register or run for the 2010 election so it was necessary for us to establish the White Tiger (SNDP) party. Many former SNLD members joined us,” said U Sai Hsaung Hsi, the Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Kyaukme.

However, U Sai Hsaung Hsi, who won a seat for the SNLD in the 1990 election, said he was unhappy at comments U Khun Htun Oo made in the United States in September in which he said the SNDP was “soft” in its dealings with the government.

He said his party’s representatives had regularly called in the hluttaw for U Khun Htun Oo’s release and the SNDP had even offered to let him run as its candidate in Lashio in the April 1 by-elections.

“U Hkun Htun Oo’s comments that [the SNLD] could not merge with us is basically like throwing sand in our eyes. He accused us of being soft because he didn’t know our activities. While he might not know what we are doing, the people do. Though we want to merge, what he has said hinders it,” he said.

“All the people will be delighted if a single party is formed putting aside grudges and focusing on the interests of our people in the way a politician should. We hope that he will change his mind after consulting his central executive committee members … our party is not the reason why there are two Shan parties in Shan State.”

As part of the SNDP’s efforts to expand its support in Shan State, the party will hold its convention in the eastern Shan State town of Tachileik next week. U Sai Hsaung Hsi said residents and parliamentarians from the eastern bank of the Thanlwin River had requested the convention be held in their region.

“Last year it was held in Taunggyi, where our headquarters is. The people have accepted the party’s activities and trust us more and more. We shifted the venue for the convention to Tachileik because our campaign has gathered momentum and the local people requested us to do so. The convention will show the people how energetic and united we are, our achievements and our plans for the future,” he said, adding that the party is likely to increase its number of deputy leaders and central executive committee members at the convention.

But the 2015 election remains a concern for the party, particularly the prospect of the Shan vote being split between the SNDP and SNLD.

SNDP member and Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Hsipaw U Ye Tun said a merger was “crucial” for the good of Shan State.

“Unless we overcome the challenge of merging these Shan parties … we can’t predict what will happen in terms of the 2015 election. I would say 90pc of people in the state want a merger to happen. Merging is possible if top leaders of both parties put aside their personal vanities and feelings and focus on serving the interests of all ethnic people in Shan State,” he said.

U Ye Tun said the situation was also further complicated by the fact that the political organisations of some non-state armed groups could also enter the political fray if peace negotiations progress well.

“In mid-2012, the president said that armed groups can establish parties to get into the hluttaw to discuss federal principles. Therefore, new parties may appear in Shan State,” he said.

U Sai Hsaung Hsi said the SNDP would also look at cooperating with these new political parties. “Armed groups are interested in politics. However, it is more likely that they will work with or support the current parties rather than compete. We are ready to work with anyone for the good of the people.”

Translated by Thit Lwin