In a translated Shan-language interview conducted on September 6 in Taunggyi, Chairman Sai Aik Pao describes SNDP as a “true” Shan party and reveals a campaign platform intended to appeal exclusively to Shan voters.
Sai Aik Pao is currently the Shan State Minister of Mining and Forestry, the Chairman of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), and the owner of a salt business. Aged 69 and born in Nam Kham Township, he will contest for a seat in the Amyotha Hluttaw—the Union Parliament’s Upper House—representing northern Shan State’s Kyaukme Township in the upcoming November election. He once served as the former General Secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), which was the frontrunner in Shan State during Burma’s 1990 elections and earned the second largest number of votes nationwide, after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
Sai Aik Pao resigned from the SNLD in 2000. In 2005, the SNLD party leadership was imprisoned by the Burmese government, and remained so until 2012. This prohibited the SNLD from competing in Burma’s 2010 elections. In 2010, the SNDP officially registered as a political party. Known locally as the White Tiger Party, SNDP won a combined 57 seats in the 2010 election and the by-election of 2012. The 2015 election marks the first time in which the SNDP and SNLD will compete against one another in the political arena. SNDP has announced that in November the party will contest constituencies in Shan State and in townships with significant Shan populations in Kachin and Kayah States and Mandalay and Sagaing Divisions.
Question: What is the aim of SNDP?
Answer: Our aim is to win the 2015 election. Of the ethnic parties, SNDP has the largest number of candidates. There are 207 candidates competing in the 2015 election. We will set up a government. We want Shan people to govern Shan State. Right now Shan State is underdeveloped compared to other states.
I would like [SNDP] to be the Shan State government…I have said it for the past three years. As I am now a Minister [of Mining and Forestry]—I have seen the inequality of what the current government is doing. For example, the roads in Loilem and Lang Khur districts are very bad, but there is no development. If we are not the government, we cannot change anything. We cannot do anything for the Shan people.
We will not be the government who only works for people in Shan State, but also in Kachin State…There are 11 townships populated with Shan people; we [SNDP] are competing in nine of these townships. We truly believe we will win in Kachin State.
The present situation is better than in the 2010 election. In 2010, we won only two seats, one minister and one Amyotha Hluttaw [House of Nationalities]. We were not allowed to compete in Kayah State in the 2010 election, even though there is a large number of Shan populated [areas]. But in this coming election, we will compete in six of the seven townships in Kayah State.
Q: Why is the 2015 election important for Shan people?
A: It is very important. There has never been a truly Shan party competing in an election after Burma’s independence.
There are 330 townships in Burma and SNDP is competing in 68 townships. This election will change the fate of the Shan people. The more seats SNDP wins, the better off Shan people will be. Please vote for SNDP because SNDP is a true Shan party; the chairman of SNDP is Shan, the vice-chairman is also Shan. We are Shan-born families. We are 100 percent Shan. Therefore, we will [work] for our Shan people including those who are in Kachin State, Sagaing Division, Kayah State and Mandalay Division. If we don’t have power, we cannot do anything. Therefore, we need power.
Q: What will you do for the people if you win the election?
A: This is very good question. I really want to answer this. Shan people have been through difficult [times]. Because of the uncertainty in the country, over one million Shan people have migrated to Thailand. I want to do many things for them. But first, there has to be peace in our country. What we want to do for our people economically, is, for example—we need to have agriculture, roads, electricity, health and education.
…The big problem in Shan State is land confiscation. [Most] Shan people are farmers and most of their lands are seized by the military. The first thing I will do if SNDP become Shan State’s government is to find jobs for them. We will focus on agriculture. I have learned many things from Thailand about agriculture. We will provide education about agriculture to the people of Shan state.
Q: What have you prepared for the election?
A: We have organized campaigns in every township. I want to tell Shan people: please, do not be confused. If the Shan want to support a true Shan party, that party is SNDP. I urge all Shan people in Shan State, Kachin State, Sagaing, Mandalay and Kayah State to vote for SNDP.
Q: Which party do you think is the biggest competition for SNDP?
A: I think it is the USDP and the NLD. But I really believe SNDP is a strong party because we get support from the people.
Q: There was only one Shan party in the 2010 election, but in this upcoming election, there are other Shan parties: such as SNDP and SNLD. What are your thoughts on this?
A: I have said that SNDP is a true Shan party. All Shan people also know this, but they just do not say it. I believe Shan people in Shan State, Kachin State, Sagaing, Mandalay, and Kayah State will vote for us. I am 100 percent sure.
Q: You will be competing with SNLD. How do you feel about this?
A: We are not competing as only two parties. There are other parties such as USDP, NLD and other ethnic parties that we are competing against. SNDP members number about 500,000; in Hsipaw Township alone there are more than 40,000 members. In Nam Kham Township, we have more than 20,000 members.*
* These party statistics were provided by Sai Aik Pao, but have not been confirmed by S.H.A.N.