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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

GUEST COLUMN

Decision Time
By HARN YAWNGHWE NOVEMBER, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.8

An impatient regime waits to hear whether the ethnic groups will take part in
the 2010 election CO MM ENTS (0)

A key role in the 2010 general election in Burma can be played by the country’s ethnic RECO MM END (55)
nationalities, who are under time pressure to decide whether or not to participate. If they
do, they can help to determine whether the result is credible in the eyes of the outside
E-M AI L
world.
PRI NT
The seven ethnic states, where up to 40 percent of Burma’s population lives, will
command about 120 of the 440 seats (110 will be military personnel) in the People’s
TEX T SI ZE
Assembly and 84 of the 224 seats (56 will be military) in the Nationalities Assembly in the
Union Parliament. The ethnic nationalities can also contest 75 percent of the seats in the State legislatures.

For ethnic-based parties that won a significant number of seats in the


1990 elections, the question is whether to stand on principles or to
participate and try to truly represent their constituencies. These
parties include the Arakan League for Democracy, the Shan
Nationalities League for Democracy, the Mon National Democratic
Front and the Chin National League for Democracy.

Their choice between boycott and participation is not only a political


one, for the struggle by the seven states for self-government
encompasses a struggle for ethnic identity.

The ethnic-based parties are not interested in a government role,


HARN YAWNGHWE is executive director of the although they fear marginalization and want a say in how the country
Euro-Burma Office in Brussels. is run, especially at state level. Many of them are expected to form or
encourage proxy parties to contest the election.

For members of the National Democratic Front (NDF), an umbrella group of ethnic parties, and other
organizations that are still engaged in armed struggles against the governing State Peace and Development
Council (SPDC), the choice is clear:

• The Chin National Front (CNF) and the Karen National Union (KNU) will continue to fight until the
SPDC includes them in the political process and agrees to their demand for self-rule. The CNF can
influence contests for about 13 seats in Chin State and a few in Sagaing Division.
• The KNU can influence contests for about eight seats in Karen State. Its political influence is
complicated by the active campaigning undertaken by the various units of the pro-regime Democratic
Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and other Karen groups that have surrendered to the SPDC. The KNU’s
influence is even more tenuous in the mixed Karen-Burman-Mon constituencies of Pegu (about 50
seats), Rangoon (about 60), Irrawaddy (about 50) and Tennassarim (about 12) divisions.
• The smaller Palaung State Liberation Front, Pa-O Peoples Liberation Organization and Wa National
Organization, which broke away from their mother organizations when they agreed to cease-fires or
surrendered to the SPDC, will remain in exile on the Thai border.
• The Arakan Liberation Party, one of several Arakanese organizations opposed to military rule, will
also remain in exile.
• The Lahu Democratic Front could influence the contest for one of the 60 or so seats in Shan State.

The other groups that do not belong to the NDF, such as the Karenni National Progressive Party and the
Shan State Army (South), will also continue fighting. With about eight seats in Karenni State and 60 seats in
Shan State at stake, however, the attitude they adopt toward the election is sure to influence the outcome.

The situation of the ethnic groups that have cease-fire agreements with the SPDC is complicated by the fact
that they are often viewed as allies of the government. They are also lumped together by the SPDC as “peace”
groups, which have “exchanged their arms for peace.” The populace in general is not sympathetic to their
cause. Some even cheered the recent SPDC action against the Kokang.

These “peace” groups include several that have surrendered to the SPDC or are under government control as
militia (or more recently as border guard forces), such as the DKBA.

Others are former units of the Communist Party of Burma in Shan State that mutinied against the party in
1988, like the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the United Wa State Army and the National
Democratic Alliance Army. These groups engaged in business with the SPDC but retained control of their
areas.

Recent events have shown that these groups do not always see eye-to-eye with the SPDC.