Khun Tun Oo: ‘We need gen­uine com­pe­ti­tion and re­spect the public’s choice’

Re­spected Shan Na­tion­al­i­ties League for Democ­racy leader Khun Tun Oo will not con­test the elec­tions, but he re­flects on his party’s changes at the polls.

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Htet Khaung Linn

Khun Tun Oo, 72, is an eth­nic Shan politi­cian and leader of the Shan Na­tion­al­i­ties League for Democ­racy (SNLD), one of the largest par­ties in Shan State. He spent many years in prison for his po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties af­ter the SNLD, known lo­cally as the Tiger Head Party, was one of the ma­jor win­ners in the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in 1990, the re­sults of which were ig­nored by the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment.

Khun Tun Oo and his party boy­cotted the flawed 2010 gen­eral elec­tions, but on Nov. 8 they will con­test in Shan State, Kayah State and Man­dalay Re­gion, with the aim of se­cur­ing 46 Lower House, 14 Up­per House and 96 re­gional leg­is­la­ture seats. The party leader him­self de­cided not to run in the polls.

In a re­cent in­ter­view with Myan­mar Now re­porter Htet Khaung Linn, Khun Tun Oo talked about the elec­tions, the fed­er­al­ist as­pi­ra­tions of Myan­mar’s eth­nic groups and the on­go­ing ceasefire ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween eth­nic armed groups and the gov­ern­ment.

Why did you de­cide not to run in the elec­tions though your party is con­test­ing many con­stituen­cies in Shan State?

Many of our party rep­re­sen­ta­tives will be in par­lia­ment. For me, I would like to work in tan­dem with other po­lit­i­cal forces that are work­ing out­side of par­lia­men­tary pol­i­tics. Con­sti­tu­tional re­form is some­thing that all po­lit­i­cal forces - those work­ing in­side and out­side the par­lia­ment - have to work on by col­lab­o­rat­ing with each other. Ef­forts within par­lia­ment to strive to­wards that have re­cently failed. So, I be­lieve that we have to find a way to work out­side the par­lia­men­tary frame­work in co­op­er­a­tion with other po­lit­i­cal forces to achieve that [re­form].

What is your per­spec­tive on co­op­er­at­ing with Aung San Suu Kyi’s Na­tional League for Democ­racy Party (NLD) in this elec­tion and be­yond?

We used to work to­gether with the NLD. We even joined the Com­mit­tee Rep­re­sent­ing the Peo­ple’s Par­lia­ment formed by the NLD in 1998 [as the army ig­nored the 1990 elec­tion re­sults]. The co­op­er­a­tion with the NLD ben­e­fited us. Some NLD lead­ers even re­cently in­formed me that the party won’t field can­di­dates in ar­eas where we are con­test­ing in light of our com­rade­ship. I was grate­ful for that as it is in­ap­pro­pri­ate for the NLD to take it all, since this would gen­er­ate misun­der­stand­ing on the part of the eth­nic par­ties. The NLD might do well to take the UNA [United Na­tion­al­i­ties Al­liance, a coali­tion of 12 eth­nic par­ties] into ac­count; my ad­vice for the NLD is to col­lab­o­rate with the UNA in the fu­ture.

But the NLD said it is now con­test­ing in all eth­nic con­stituen­cies, in­clud­ing those in Shan State. What

do you think of that de­ci­sion?

That’s part of be­ing a democ­racy. If we say ‘you can’t come and com­pete in our ar­eas be­cause we want no ri­val,’ then that is not gen­uine democ­racy. We also need to care about the public’s free­dom to choose [a party]. We need to open up choices for the public. There are many [eth­nic politi­cians] who tend to com­plain about the NLD’s plan to com­pete in their ar­eas. But no­body is blam­ing the rul­ing Union Sol­i­dar­ity and De­vel­op­ment Party in the same way.

I am not de­fend­ing the NLD. It is im­per­a­tive that hon­est and qual­i­fied lead­ers emerge and work for our coun­try. I don’t wish to say who should and should not run in a par­tic­u­lar area. Even if our party wins in an area, it wouldn’t do much if the elected leg­is­la­tor rep­re­sent­ing us is not on a par with the leg­is­la­tors of other par­ties in terms of qual­i­fi­ca­tions. We need to have gen­uine com­pe­ti­tion and re­spect the public’s choice.

How do you think SNLD will fare in the elec­tion com­pared to your main ri­val, Shan Na­tion­al­i­ties for Demo­cratic Party (SNDP)?

The SNDP is our main ri­val in Shan State, where we we are con­test­ing 50 par­lia­men­tary seats. Even though we did not com­pete in the 2010 and 2012 elec­tions, we’ve started or­gan­i­sa­tional ac­tiv­i­ties three years ago. I don’t wish to crit­i­cise other par­ties but as far as we’ve gauged, we stand very well in the public opin­ion. Another thing is we’ve never been em­broiled in fi­nan­cial scan­dals and never had a bad rep­u­ta­tion. That’s why about 10 ac­tive MPs rep­re­sent­ing the other party (SNDP) left theirs and joined our party - as did or­di­nary mem­bers of that party. Un­like the other party, we don’t re­quire the party can­di­dates to give $4,000 or so in com­pen­sa­tion to the party if they were to switch to another party.

Re­cently, Shwe Mann was purged as USDP chair­man by Pres­i­dent Thein Sein in a night­time in­ci­dent in­volv­ing armed po­lice forces. What’s your view of this de­vel­op­ment?

I don’t wish to com­ment on the party’s in­ter­nal di­vi­sions, but I would like to say the pro­ce­dures un­der­taken [dur­ing the purge] are wrong. [Shwe Mann] is the speaker of the Union Par­lia­ment while [his ri­val] is the pres­i­dent of the coun­try. What is the point of se­cu­rity forces sur­round­ing the party’s head­quar­ters? Were there peo­ple in­side the party head­quar­ters armed with sticks and swords, or ex­chang­ing gun­fire, so much so that the po­lice needed to in­ter­vene?

The al­le­ga­tion against [Shwe Mann] was that he was forg­ing an al­liance with the op­po­si­tion [NLD] party. It’s quite nat­u­ral for par­ties to ally with each other be­cause there are no rules bar­ring that. Ev­ery­one one won­ders what kind of democ­racy we are hav­ing when you or­der the speaker of par­lia­ment to stay in­side his

home. Af­ter ob­serv­ing this in­ci­dent, the eth­nic armed groups will think twice about sign­ing ceasefire deals with the gov­ern­ment as they can con­sider what might hap­pen to them later.

So far, five armed eth­nic groups have de­clared that they would like to sign a na­tion­wide ceasefire ac­cord with the gov­ern­ment, while other groups have been hes­i­tant. What do you think will hap­pen in the ceasefire process?

My un­der­stand­ing is that the na­tion­wide ceasefire agree­ment must be all-in­clu­sive. If the groups signs the deal then all other groups should fol­low suit. That was the con­sen­sus the armed eth­nic groups achieved in the Laiza con­fer­ence [in Kachin State in 2014] and Law Khee Lah base con­fer­ence in Karen State.

Now it seems that six eth­nic armed groups haven’t de­cided whether to sign it, while fight­ing still con­tin­ues be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and smaller armed eth­nic groups like the Kokang, Arakan Army and Ta’ang (Palaung) and Lahu. If these groups are not sign­ing the ceasefire agree­ment, then it calls into ques­tion how last­ing the peace would be. To me, I find no is­sue at all with all these armed groups com­ing on­board to sign the ceasefire agree­ment with the gov­ern­ment. We have ex­pe­ri­enced all the dis­crim­i­na­tory tac­tics [of the gov­ern­ment]. So, we need to al­low a small armed group, even if it is formed with just 50 peo­ple, to sign the ceasefire too. [Editor’s note: The gov­ern­ment is re­fus­ing to let some armed groups sign as they are con­sid­ered too small, or still ac­tively fight­ing the army.]

There are a num­ber of pro-gov­ern­ment Peo­ple’s Mili­tias in Shan State. Would they pose chal­lenges to the po­lit­i­cal par­ties, in­clud­ing yours, dur­ing the cam­paign pe­riod and on elec­tion day?

First, our party has no re­la­tion with these groups. As far as I know, these groups are not op­posed to our poli­cies. Dur­ing a re­cent cam­paign visit in the town of Kalaw in Kayah State, a Peo­ple’s Mili­tia group there heartily wel­comed us into their of­fice and ex­pressed sup­port for our de­mands for greater equal­ity among all eth­nic groups.

Cur­rently, some eth­nic armed groups are re­ly­ing on nat­u­ral re­sources in their ar­eas. What is your opin­ion on shar­ing rev­enues of nat­u­ral re­sources in the eth­nic ar­eas af­ter a ceasefire is signed? How can it be done?

The par­lia­men­tary pro­posal on this topic of de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources did not win sup­port. Some eth­nic MPs called for power de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion and a sys­tem of shar­ing [rev­enues from] nat­u­ral re­sources, 75 per­cent of which would be for lo­cal eth­nic groups and the re­main­ing 25 per­cent for the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. The pro­posal was a fail­ure.

Forests have been wiped out, leav­ing noth­ing for the lo­cals. That has been the case in both Kachin and Shan states. The same hap­pened in the min­ing sec­tor - gold mines and gems mines [are be­ing de­pleted]. This will con­tinue to cre­ate dis­con­tent among the lo­cal pop­u­la­tions. The fo­cal point is to amend the 2008 con­sti­tu­tion [to im­prove re­source shar­ing], as the eth­nic peo­ple bear the brunt of [re­source ex­ploita­tion].

If the rul­ing USDP party man­aged to form a gov­ern­ment af­ter the Novem­ber elec­tions, what would this mean for the fed­er­al­ist as­pi­ra­tions of the eth­nic groups?

If that is the out­come, then it would be chal­leng­ing to hope for a fed­eral union. The idea of form­ing a fed­eral army would not trans­late into re­al­ity, nor can we achieve a gen­uine fed­eral sys­tem. The fed­eral sys­tem we will end up with may be “Burmese-style” fed­er­al­ism - we have al­ready seen what “Burmese-style so­cial­ism” and “Burmese-style democ­racy” looks like. If there won’t be the gen­uine fed­eral union that the eth­nic peo­ple have de­manded, fight­ing would re­sume, un­de­terred by any sort of ceasefire agree­ment.

It seems that the in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Thein Sein is hop­ing for a sec­ond term. What do you think of his at­tempt to stay in power and what would it mean for Myan­mar?

The mil­i­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tives [25 per­cent of the leg­is­la­ture] might nom­i­nate him as a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. But the coun­try re­mains plagued by cor­rup­tion and the le­gal sys­tem is still frag­ile. Pres­i­dent Thein Sein did not man­age to tackle these prob­lems. A host of other is­sues, like land grabs, po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, de­tained stu­dents and en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems, pose great chal­lenges to the coun­try. It’s time for all of us to con­tem­plate how to achieve last­ing peace. All these is­sues weren’t re­solved and even wors­ened dur­ing the past five years un­der the rule of Pres­i­dent Thein Sein.

My un­der­stand­ing is that the na­tion­wide ceasefire agree­ment must be all-in­clu­sive. If the groups signs the deal then all other groups should fol­low suit.

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