Ko Ko Gyi, a prominent former political prisoner in Myanmar, is leading the effort to register the would-be Four Eights People’s Party as an official political party. He and other former members of the country’s 88 Generation Peace and Open Society activist group who want to enter electoral politics first submitted an application to the country’s electoral commission in December 2017 to register under the name Four Eights Party. But they came under heavy fire from other activists from the 88 Generation, who also participated in Myanmar’s 1988 pro-democracy movement, over arguments that the party did not represent all those who took part in the demonstrations against the government and the use of the historically significant number 8888. The number refers to August 8, 1988, the date on which a bloody crackdown by soldiers ended a nationwide democracy uprising against the then military regime.
Because of the adverse reaction, the Union Election Commission (UEC) requested that the group come up with a new name, resulting in the creation of the Four Eights People’s Party, which won approval in April. But after more complaints about the would-be party, the commission ordered the group to change its name again along with its logo and flag and to refrain from using the number 8888.
Ko Ko Gyi and others will meet on July 8 to decide whether they will change the party’s name, flag, and logo or cancel the registration process — a move that would make the party ineligible to field candidates in by-elections in November to fill a handful of vacant seats in parliaments at the state, regional, and national level. Ko Ko Gyi discussed the group’s plans with reporter Khin Khin Ei of RFA's Myanmar Service. The following is an edited version of their conversation.
RFA: What is the latest status of your party?
Ko Ko Gyi: According to a message from the Union Election Commission, it has asked us to apply again to form a political party after we change our name, flag, and logo. This was the commission’s decision at a meeting on June 7. If we don’t apply again with the changes by July 13, our application will automatically be voided, the message from the commission said. This is the most recent message we have received from the commission.
RFA: Will you make the change that the commission has requested and reapply?
Ko Ko Gyi: We will hold a meeting on July 8 in Mandalay and will ask for party members’ opinions. For sure, we all have decided to try to become a political party. Actually, the commission’s decision is not according to the law. We have to decide whether we will change the name, flag, and logo and reapply as the commission has directed us to do, or to not change anything and let the application become null and void because it will not be in accordance with the law. But we will apply to form a new party. We will decide these two important issues on July 8.
RFA: Will your party contest in the next by-elections?
Ko Ko Gyi: It’s too late for us to do so. We would have to submit our candidates’ names by July 11. Even if the election commission approved our party’s name, flag, and logo, we would still have to submit the names of 1,000 party members and the party’s list of central executive committee [members] within three months. We don’t know how long it will take to get the commission’s approval for the list.
RFA: Why did the party seek approval from the UEC?
Ko Ko Gyi: In my view, the law pertaining to the registration of political parties is wrong. The commission refers to the bylaw, and we have responded that this bylaw is different from the main law which is the basis of the bylaw. The commission said it will not change its decision about our party, and this legislation part is something we have to review.
RFA: What do you think this of the current government and current political situation?
Ko Ko Gyi: Because of the election system, each government runs the country for five years, so the policies to control the country will not be the same [for every administration]. But because every government has to deal with and resolve common crises, such as the peace process and the Rakhine problem, we need common policies that all parties agree to accept to address these issues.
Reported by Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.