Sai Win Myint is a member of the three-month-old Eastern Shan State Development Democratic Party (ESSDDP) also known as the “Kongjai Party.” He was competing for a People’s Assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw) seat in Mong La Township, or Special Region No. 4, an area controlled by the Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA). However, candidates’ ambitions were suppressed in early August, when it was announced that residents of Mong La would not be able to vote in November’s election, due to “security concerns” and missing voter lists.
Before joining ESSDDP, the 66-year-old politician served as a former Central Executive Committee member of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the opposition party which won by a landslide in the Burmese general election of 1990, but whose victory was not recognized by the military.
In a face-to-face interview with S.H.A.N, Sai Win Myint discussed his decision to resign from the NLD, his views on the Shan parties and his reaction to the cancelled election in his constituency.
Q: Since you held a high position in the NLD, what made you decide to quit the party?
A: It’s the right time for the Shan to be united. When I was in the NLD, it was difficult to work for our people. I know well because I was in the party for 27 years. They have a good system and a good leader but not [a good] working team. For example, there are twelve seats for Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities) in Shan State so the [NLD] candidates should be ethnic people, but not many ethnic representatives were selected.
Q: Why did you decide to join ESSDDP?
A: It’s time for all the Shan to join hands together. If we are still separated, it’s difficult to be in the Parliament. In eastern Shan State, there are three Shan parties and the NLD. If I’m running for the NLD, then there will be four Shan people competing against each other. As a result, we all will lose.
Q: There are three Shan parties now. Do you think that each party will get only some of the votes and then all the Shan parties will lose to others?
A: It might be the case for the whole of Shan State. But I don’t think it will happen in eastern Shan State. We [ESSDDP] believe we can win. The reason I say that is because the SNLD party has been set up for 27 years, but they cannot get support from the people. The SNDP is also the same. What’s more, these two parties have never asked for cooperation with us [ESSDDP’s members].
Q: You said that you want to help Shan people. Why didn’t you join one of the two Shan parties, SNLD or SNDP? Why was a new party formed?
A: The party is new, but the members are not. All of the members have been working in politics for many years. When SNLD started in 1988, we were leading in this area, but none of the eastern members were put into high positions at the headquarters. My opinion is that if they really want to cooperate, all of the members from three parts of Shan State should be included. The reason we set up a new party is not to compete with our Shan parties. We started [ESSDDP] because the two Shan parties do not cooperate. For us, we want all Shan to be united in all parts of Shan State as well as Tai Leng. [Editor’s note: Tai Leng refers to the ‘Red Shan,’ who largely live in Kachin State]
Q: How long will it take for the Shan to be united?
A: I think it will take at least ten years, because many Shan people still do not understand politics. Only the leaders do not unite.
Q: How is your party campaign going right now?
A: The party has been set up for only about three months. In Kengtung, we have reached about 60 percent [of the township]. We get a lot support from the community because our party includes every nationality in eastern Shan State.
Q: You were selected as a candidate in Mongla, but the election there was canceled. How do you feel about this?
A: I don’t think it is the point whether the election is held or not. Even though we are in the parliament, it’s meaningless to be an MP (member of Parliament) if we cannot change the 2008 Constitution. It is very difficult to amend the Constitution, because 25 percent of parliament seats are reserved for the Burmese military. The key for change is the constitution. For us [ESSDDP], we will support any group that wishes to change the constitution.
Q: What message do you want to give to the new generation?
A: The most important thing is that our new generation has to focus on education. I encourage all youth to be united and work for our people, including all ethnic groups in Shan State.
By SAI AW / Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N)