Party spokesman Khin Maung Swe says his party was right to run in the 2010 election, but still wants a rapprochement with the NLD. He says that the parties are on the same page on the Burma’s Constitution. “It is not democratic. It must be revised,” he said, echoing recent remarks by Aung San Suu Kyi.
RANGOON—For Burma’s hard-pressed political parties, small and ramshackle offices are the norm, and for the National Democratic Force (NDF), the narrow four-story house in a Rangoon suburb is no exception.
Party banners hang either side of the new Republic of the Union of Myanmar flag outside the building, a 20-minute taxi journey from the city’s downtown, but otherwise it looks just like the rest of the row of houses lined along the gravel-covered street.
Upstairs, former political prisoner and party leader Khin Maung Swe confers with colleagues about preparations for the upcoming April 1 by-election, when the party will attempt to add to its 16 seats in Burma’s Upper and Lower Houses of parliament.
Those seats were won in a November 2010 national election dismissed by most observers at the time as a farce. This time, as well as challenging the mass-membership army vehicle known as the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the NDF will compete against its mother organization, the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party which won Burma’s last free and fair election in 1990 and whose leader Aung San Suu Kyi has drawn tens of thousands of supporters on recent campaign trips to Pathein and Tavoy.
Khin Maung Swe says that the NDF can win six or seven seats out of the 48 up for grabs in the April 1 vote, hoping for roughly 50 percent return from the 13 candidates that the party will run. “We think we can win in Kachin, in Yangon, in Irrawaddy,” said Khin Maung Swe.
He says that the NLD will not sweep the board in the upcoming elections. “The USDP is giving money to farmers, promising benefits to people,” he said. “I think that even in a free vote they will take some seats.”
Controversially, the NDF split from the NLD prior to the 2010 vote, believing that despite likelihood of a rigged vote, it was better to try to work the system from the inside. “We were completely right. The NLD is now following us,” said Khin Maung Swe. “They are joining the process and running in the elections now.”
Asked if he feels vindicated by the NLD decision, and the recent reforms undertaken by the Burmese government, he said, “The Thein Sein government has to do many things to fulfill the wishes of the people, and we think we can push them better from inside the Parliament.”
One reason given by the NLD for refusing to go along with the 2010 electoral process was the country’s controversial 2008 constitution, railroaded through in a rigged plebiscite shortly after the Irrawaddy delta region was devastated by Cyclone Nargis, a disaster that killed an estimated 140,000 people.
The Constitution gives overwhelming powers to the country’s army, making it difficult to make changes without military consent. Khin Maung Swe says that the NDF and NLD are on the same page on the Constitution. “It is not democratic. It must be revised,” he said, echoing recent remarks by Aung San Suu Kyi.
Like many of Burma’s politicians, Khin Maung Swe did jail time for his political beliefs—16 and a half years in all. But it is the split with the NLD that clearly rankles more than the lost years behind bars. “I was so proud to have been chosen by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to join the CEC [Central Executive Committee] of the NLD,” he recalls, eyes cast downward as he speaks.
“With their decision to run for election, the only difference between the parties now is the logo and the flag,” he said. He confirmed that the NDF has made overtures to the NLD about re-amalgamating their parties.
However, speaking at the party’s HQ in Rangoon on Friday, NLD spokesman Ohn Kyaing told The Irrawaddy that more discussions are needed between his party and the NDF if any rapprochement is to be achieved. “They need to tell us the reasons why they broke away in the first place,” he says.
Ruefully, Khin Maung Swe says that “we have not heard back from them [NLD] about this.” He says he is hopeful, however, that after the April 1 by-election, it could be possible for the two sides to discuss their future together.
“I think you will see more changes here in Myanmar soon,” he says. His party is pushing an anti-monopoly in the country’s parliament, something he says will be vital in reforming Burma’s sclerotic, non-performing economy.
“When the government gets more confidence in the democratic process, we hope this country will be transformed,” he said. “The only way we can revise the constitution is from inside the Parliament.”Show