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Senior members from across the political spectrum met at the Inya Lake Hotel in Rangoon on 4 November to champion their policies four days ahead of the country’s general elections.
Taking part in the debate and representing Burma’s six major parties contesting seats across the country, were: Tin Maung Win – Union Solidarity and Development Party; Win Myint – National League for Democracy (NLD); Dr Aye Maung – Arakan National Party (ANP); Sai Nyunt Lwin – Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD); Khin Maung Swe – National Democratic Force (NDF); and Han Shwe – National Unity Party (NUP).
Addressing questions of fairness and credibility in the upcoming vote, all parties agreed that claims of a “free and fair” election are somewhat inaccurate.
Dr Aye Maung says the responsibility for a credible election falls squarely on the shoulders of the incumbent government, stating: “For me, a free and fair election is the responsibility of those who are currently in power.”
Responding to the charge, Tin Maung Win sought to assure voters, “We are trying to have a free and fair election according to the position that our country is in … mostly. We cannot say 100 percent. But, I believe that it would be at most free and fair.”
But Khin Maung Swe reminded viewers that no election is perfect.
“No country in the world conducts 100 perfect free and fair elections. If one thinks that there could be a 100 perfect free and fair election in Burma, he or she has no political knowledge,” he said.
Spruiking his parties credentials and experience, Han Shwe cited the National Unity Party’s consistent participation in all elections since 1988.
“Our party is the most experienced in this election. I would like to say that 2015 has the highest transparency compared with past elections. As well as transparent, this election will be, “free and fair” but only to a certain extent,” Han Shwe said.
Moving to the lagging education sector, the USDP representative promised a raft of improvements.
“We will do free education for the basic levels such as primary, secondary and high school levels. Then, we will work for colleges and universities to have autonomous administration. This is already written [in the] constitution … the only thing left is it needs to be implemented.
“Another thing is for young people, vocational education is also very important. We will work for young people to have a chance to learn vocational skills. We will also review the education system to reach international standards. We have to work for the students to have a wider chance to learn abroad.
“The next thing is the private education sector – we need to expand this sector in education,” Tin Maung Win said.
Khin Maung Swe expressed his party’s support for student freedom, stating that student unions should be allowed to organise independently, stating that, “universities should be autonomously administered.”
Shifting focus to economic management, Dr Aye Maung reiterated a call for economic review, stating: “We need to review the past situation up to the current situation. What is the state of our Burmese economy?”
Speaking on their plans should the NLD form government, Win Myint confirmed their position was centred around a market economy, saying: “We don’t want to see a market economy monopolized by group of people” and highlighted the importance of equal development among the states and regions.
The first stage of Burma’s peace process came to a conclusion in October, with only eight of 15 invited parties ultimately signing the ceasefire with Naypyidaw. With several powerful armies excluded from the deal, Sai Nyunt Lwin claims the existing ceasefire will pave the way for other militias to join.
“We have this chance now. If the next government has good will, as the government is the parents of the people and cares for the people, I think we will get peace, and I believe political dialogue could be started and political problems could be solved,” he said.
Addressing one of the most controversial issues in the election – discrimination and displacement of Muslim populations, Dr Aye Maung recommended a review of citizenship, referring to how the constitution deals with rights. Dr Aye Maung’s Arakan State, where some 800,000 Rohingya live, has been the site of ongoing simmering racial and religious tension. The ANP is expected to sweep to an election victory in the state.
“The main thing is the constitution, how does it mention [race and religion]? Does it mention citizenship? What are the rights of the citizens? The right to vote, and the right to be elected … The laws are issued according to the constitution. If the current laws are not relevant to the constitution, the laws should be dismissed.
“So, the first thing that should be done is to review the current laws as to whether a person – Christian or Muslim or atheist … we need to review the citizenship law for him/her. If she or he qualifies [as a citizen], he or she must get rights,” he said.
The SNLD is expected to poll well in their home state, much like the ANP in Arakan State. With 25 percent of seats constitutionally reserved for the military, it may be the ethnic party’s allegiances that allow one of the big two parties to form government.
Sai Nyunt Lwin states that his party will, “only join with the democratic groups”, believing that democracy and the federal union are, “both sides of the same coin”.
The role of the army in Burma’s political landscape is undeniable – holding an essential veto power with their 25 percent of seats, and exercising sway over legislation, the NUP, NLD and SNDP agreed that it is time for the Burmese army, known as the Tatmadaw, to scale back their role in parliament.
National Unity Party representative Han Shwe says the army must be recognised as a “political force”.
“Due to the origin of the Tatmadaw, its history and nature, we must recognise it as a political force. This is the existing state of affairs that we cannot turn a blind eye to.
“According to our party’s policy, we see that it is not appropriate for the Tatmadaw to reserve 25 percent of parliamentary seats … The Tatmadaw must gradually reduce their role in the parliament – they must be replaced with lawmakers by the people within roughly three government terms,” he said.
Win Myint echoed the sentiment that the Tatmadaw’s influence should decrease, stating that all three branches of government – executive, legislature, and judicial are guided by the military.
Closing the discussion, Sai Nyunt of the SNDP concurred, saying: “Our opinion is that, now is the time to let the people take their turn, and that whatever is in place now, needs to end.”
Read the full coverage of the 2015 election.