Hkun Tun Oo, also known as Noel and Sao Naing Naing, founder and leader of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), passed away peacefully on 30th April at the age of 79.
Khun Tun Oo was born in Hsipaw, Shan State on 11th of September, 1943. After the 1988 uprising, he founded and chaired the SNLD party.
As an SNLD candidate, he became a member of parliament for the No.1 constituency in Hsipaw Township in the 1990 general elections.
In 2005 he was imprisoned by the military government State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) for 93 years, along with other Shan leaders, for treason and defamation. He was released from prison under an amnesty on 13th January, 2012 during the Thein Sein administration.
His achievement in politics were mostly linked to the party he formed and in a way it is inseparable and impossible to view him unattached from the SNLD, particularly regarding his political outlook and his mode of thinking.
First and foremost, the name of the party he had chosen speaks for itself, which means it covers all ethnic groups living with the boundary of Shan State and as well, Shan or Tai living outside Shan State territories. The plural form of “nationalities” used for the party name’s is meant to cover all ethnic groups, such as Kachin, Wa, Pa-O, Intha, Danu, Lahu, Bamar and so on living in Shan State, and including the majority Shan/Tai of course.
However, before the 2020 election SNLD changed its stance from ethnic-based to state-based electorate system.
After the 1990 nationwide election where the National League for Democracy (NLD) won with a landslide coming out first in the whole country and SNLD obtaining second place with the absolute majority win in Shan State, the then in power military junta refused to honor the result and wouldn’t let the winning parties govern the country.
Following this Hkun Tun Oo took the initiative together with his party to form the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) which was considered to be one of the most influential political alliances in the country. The UNA encompassed a varied spectrum of ethnic political parties, dominated by the SNLD. Originally, there were 12 different political parties, which included SNLD, Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF), Zomi National Congress (ZNC), Arakan League for Democracy (ALD), Chin National League for Democracy (CNLD), Kayin National Congress for Democracy (KNCD), Kachin State National Congress for Democracy (KNCD), Kayah State All Nationalities League for Democracy (KSANLD), Kayan National Unity and Democratic Organization (DOKNU), Mra People’s Party (MPP), Shan State Kokang Democratic Party (SSKDP), and Arakan People’s Democratic Front (APDF).
The condolence letter issued by the UNA, of which Hkun Tun Oo was a patron, vowed to continue the struggle so that democracy and federal union aspirations are realized, according to his desire.
In 2002, the SNLD headed by Hkun Tun Oo joined the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP) led by National League for Democracy (NLD) Aung San Suu Kyi.
Within the Shan State he spearheaded the formation of Shan State Joint Action Committee (SSJAC), which included the SNLD, the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), and the Seng Kiao’s People Militia. He also led the SSJAC to actively participate in the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU) since 2013 in order to achieve Shan unity. But unfortunately and sadly his aspiration wasn’t fulfilled, as the two Shan armies the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and SSPP continues to fight each other since 2018 until today.
Even quite recently, he was said to have planned to fly to Thailand to mediate between the RCSS leader Gen Yawd Serk and SSPP chief Gen Pang Fa to end the hostility and opt for unity for the sake of the Shan people. But he passed away before he was able to do it.
Prior to this during the second half of 1990s Hkun Tun Oo entrusted the exiled Shan Democratic Union (SDU) formed in Thailand by the Chiang Mai-based Shan State Organization (SSO) and Bangkok-based Tai Union to speak and lobby for SNLD internationally as the whole country is under intense oppression. Accordingly, SDU joined the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) in 1997 to do just that.
The best way to transform our sorrow and sadness may be, like the UNA condolence letter has suggested, to help realize his dream of democracy and federal union. And to do this ethnic-democratic camps will have to fight in unison. At this juncture, the unity of Shan resistance forces may be the key to propel the course of the people’s revolution, as it is the only state left that has not enter the fray in big way like the Kachin, Chin, Karenni, and Karen states.
As such, the people of Shan State and the organizations, armed and unarmed, owe Hkun Tun Oo a favor to fulfill his cherished dream, if they really think he is still their national leader as time and again been professed and also share his commitment to achieve a federal democratic union.