Fifteen Myanmar Ethnic Groups to Form Unified Party

2013-06-11
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Members of the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation meet in Shan state's Taunggyi city, June 11, 2013.
RFA

More than a dozen ethnic groups within a loose alliance agreed Tuesday to establish a unified political party in a bid to secure greater representation for Myanmar’s minorities in the national parliament ahead of 2015 elections, according to officials.

The agreement by 15 of the groups to form the Federated Union Party (FUP) was made on the opening day of a two-day conference held in eastern Myanmar’s Shan state capital of Taunggyi, Oo Hla Saw, general secretary of the Rakhine Nationality Development Party (RNDP) told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“The ethnic parties have run for election within their ethnic regions, but there are many ethnic people who are living in different parts of the country,” Oo Hla Saw said.

“A party with the intent of collecting those votes could make their many different voices heard and provide for greater ethnic representation in parliament.”

The 15 do not include some of the major ethnic groups such as the Kachin, Karen, Kayah, and Bamar ethnic communities.

Oo Hla Saw said that the FUP hopes to “get on the same political level as the [military-backed] Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and [Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition] National League for Democracy (NLD),” which together hold the majority of seats in parliament.

The FUP will consist of the 15 political groups from the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF)—an ethnic alliance initially formed from the RNDP, Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), Chin National Party, All Mon Regions Democracy Party, and Phalon-Sawal Democratic Party after Myanmar’s 2010 by-election.

Since its formation, the NBF has grown to include the Asho Chin National Party, Wa Democratic Party, Kayan National Party, and Inn National Development Party (INDP) in its core group of parties, with six additional parties as observers.

Oo Hla Saw said that according to the rules of Myanmar’s Election Commission, citizens are prohibited from belonging to more than one political organization at a time.

He said the FUP would be chaired by a separate group of ethnic leaders and that a number of NBF members would resign from their alliance to join the new party.

Ethnic constituencies

In March, Chairman of the RNDP Aye Maung said that the NBF was considering establishing the FUP “to enter the fray if two big parties run in ethnic constituencies,” according to the Myanmar Times.

The report referred to an NBF manifesto released earlier that month which said the USDP and NLD “should avoid running in ethnic-minority constituencies if they really want to secure national unity.”

It quoted Sai Pho Aung, SNDP member of parliament for Shan state’s Muse township, as saying that Aung San Suu Kyi had “once discussed with some of us whether ethnic minority candidates should contest only in ethnic-minority constituencies.”

“But in the last by-election, they contested those seats as well,” he said.

Reformist President Thein Sein has signed cease-fire agreements with most of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups since he came to power in 2011, and signed a temporary peace agreement at the end of May with the Kachin in a bid to end the country’s last major ethnic conflict.

The Kachin and other ethnic groups have called for greater autonomy and increased representation in the president’s nominally civilian government, which has set Myanmar on a path to democracy after decades of military misrule.

During the two-day meeting in Taunggyi, NBF members plan to discuss amending the junta-backed constitution which guarantees the military a 25 percent quota in parliament, civil peace, and a proposal to change the country’s electoral system to one of proportional representation.

They will also consider the agendas of each different ethnic party and set the groundwork for a conference including all of the groups ahead of the 2015 election.

Reported by Zin Mar Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.