A resurgent Shan Nationalities League for Democracy warns that it will go its own way if the NLD does not work with ethnic minorities to achieve a federal union.
The office of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy in the Shan State capital, Taunggyi, is just off the main road that runs through the thriving market town.
The road is named after Myanmar’s independence hero Bogyoke Aung San, and his statue has pride of place in a well-maintained park in the centre of Taunggyi, under which a group of youths was strumming guitars in unseasonable November rain. At the Shan State Cultural Museum, also on Bogyoke Aung San Road, the national hero’s image adorns an exhibit celebrating the signing of the Panglong Agreement, which promised self-determination for the Shan and other ethnic minorities but was never fulfilled.
The result of the November 8 vote suggests that Bogyoke Aung San’s legacy lives on, in Taunggyi at least. The National League for Democracy, the party of Bogyoke Aung San’s daughter, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, won the lower and upper house seats in the state capital.
But the NLD did not achieve the landslide in Shan State that it won in all the other states and regions, with the exception of Rakhine State. The SNLD – which won 12 lower house and three upper house seats – outperformed the National League for Democracy in Shan, winning 25 of the 110 elected seats in the regional assembly to the NLD’s 21. The Union Solidarity and Development Party won the most seats in the assembly, with 32, and the other main winners were the Ta’ang National Party (7) and Pa-O National Organisation (6).
Bolstered by its performance, the SNLD has called on the NLD to work with the country’s indigenous ethnic minorities to achieve a federal union.
“The NLD does not represent the whole of Shan State, they did not win everywhere,” said Sai Lynn Myatt, secretary of the SNLD’s southern Shan State office. “They have to work with us,” he said.
In common with many ethnic people who have long harboured resentment towards the Bamar majority, Sai Lynn Myat remains apprehensive about the NLD’s intentions towards indigenous minorities.
“How much can they guarantee for the ethnic people? That is the first question we have to ask,” said Sai Lynn Myat, who stood as a lower house candidate in Taunggyi but lost to the NLD. “We can’t say exactly what they will do, it will depend on their leader Aung San Suu Kyi and what she will do. We will see, but we do not trust them 100 percent,” he said.
The SNLD has three main objectives, Sai Lynn Myat said. Equality for all of Myanmar’s indigenous ethnic groups, a federal union and self-determination. He said that SNLD plans to work with the NLD, but if an agreement cannot be reached then “we will go our own way to reaching what we want to achieve”.
“If they are genuine about developing the country, if they really love ethnic people, then they must align with us. The Shan people have shown that they support us,” he said.
In an interview last month with Radio Free Asia, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said a new cabinet under the NLD would include members of other political parties and representatives from ethnic minorities.
“Our party has won an overwhelming majority of the seats but we won’t take them all,” she said.
Sai Lynn Myat said it would be crucial for the NLD to appoint members of minority groups to cabinet if it wanted to build trust with ethnic groups.
“This is a must. Since 1990, we have had the same destination as them. Although we are not aligned, we have the same goal,” he said.
Although the election has attracted praise for being largely regarded as free and fair, Sai Lynn Myat said there were problems.
“The election was still very biased against minority groups. People say the election was fair, but it was not 100 percent. There were still many instances of manipulation in the whole country,” he said.
The SNLD was formed in the aftermath of the anti-government uprising in 1988. It was one of the main parties to contest the 1990 election, in which it won 23 seats, the most after the NLD, that won 392 of the 492 contested seats in a result the military junta refused to accept.
The SNLD’s decision to join the NLD in boycotting the 2010 election led to a split that resulted in the creation of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party. The SNDP emerged from the flawed 2010 election with 18 lower house and three upper house seats, as well as 31 in the regional assembly, in which the USDP won 54 seats.
Despite both parties claiming to work for the rights of Shan people, Sai Lynn Myat said ideological differences mean that a reconciliation is unlikely.
“Our relationship with the SNDP is not close. They accept the 14 states and region, but we do not. We only accept eight regions; one each for Bamar, Mon, Karen, Kayah, Kachin, Rakhine, Chin and Shan,” Sai Lynn Myat said.
Recalling Bogyoke Aung San’s vision, Sai Lynn Myat said the country was on its way to equal rule for the eight groups until Aung San’s assassination on July 19, 1947. General Ne Win, who seized power in a military coup in 1962 and ruled the country until 1988, led a pro-Bamar government that alienated ethnic groups, Sai Lynn Myat said.
“We need to be equal in politics, economy and society. It is not equal at the moment. So why are we separate from the SNDP? They accept the 14 states and regions, but this is not equal for our ethnic people,” he said.