Ethnic Politicians, Analysts Weigh in on NLD’s Promise of a ‘National Unity’ Govt

By Network Media Group (NMG)
Monday, December 14, 2020

Despite a promise by the National League for Democracy (NLD) to form a “national unity government,” after their re-election on November 8, the party reportedly has yet to extend formal offers and invites to ethnic political parties or leaders to participate in such an administration.

The NLD sent an open letter to 48 ethnic political parties on November 12, promising to listen to and implement the wishes of ethnic people, pointing to shared goals and objectives and asking for cooperation across party lines in a new united government.

Ethnic armed organizations and ethnic political parties welcomed the NLD’s gesture, but say they are still waiting to see how it will be implemented and who will be included.

NMG spoke to politicians, analysts and activists about where the ideal stands and what their expectations are.

Nai Layae Tama, joint general secretary 1 of the Mon Unity Party

“[The November 12 open letter] is not an invitation letter for a meeting. The letter is not offering anything. It is a kind of motivation letter for cooperation. Therefore, we do not need to respond to it, but we recognize it and have recorded it. […] If they make an offer to us, it depends on what they offer. Then we will make a decision about it. Depending on what they are offering, we will make a decision about whether we will meet them or not.”

Thae Reh, secretary of the Kayah State Democratic Party

“[Representatives] from our party and some NLD leaders have had informal talks. They are unofficial talks between them and us. The ruling NLD is preparing to form a national unity government. We have heard about it. We have shared information among ourselves. We do not have any breakthrough agreements. […] We are considering two options. I do not know whether they will offer a [position of] Union minister to represent ethnic people or whether they will allow six state-based political parties to join the ethnic state government. We are considering these two options. It’s just our consideration. We haven’t had any official discussions with them yet.”

Gumgrawng Awng Hkam, vice chairperson 2 of the Kachin State People’s Party

“There is nothing. It won’t happen. I think they will call up their favorite ethnic leaders. What we want is a genuine national unity government which can implement unity among all ethnic people in the future. […] In the past, they said that they wouldn’t work together with other [parties]. Now they are saying that they will work with others. It’s hard to trust them. We won’t trust it. Therefore, if they want to implement it, they must discuss it with other stakeholders. They need to implement the 1947 Panglong Agreement.”

Saw Kyaw Swar, secretary of the Karen Affairs Committee

“What kind of unity do they want to implement in the country? To develop our country, intellectual and distinguished people should be included in the national unity government. […] In my opinion, it’s important that ethnic representatives, who actually represent ethnic people, are included in a national unity government. If actual ethnic leaders are included in a national unity government, national reconciliation will grow stronger. If they only select their favorite people, who do not represent an ethnic group, or ethnic leaders from another party, I think, it won’t change the situation.”

Dr. Hkalam Tu Hkawng, independent researcher

“Some ethnic leaders are not members of political parties. Ethnic leaders cannot represent their ethnic people [in the national unity government] if they are not members of a political party. [The government] usually calls up their favorite ethnic leaders rather than critical ethnic leaders.”

Maung Maung Soe, political analyst

“Whether they will form a national unity government we will see in their practical implementation. The NLD formed a government after winning the 2015 general election without consulting any ethnic political parties. They didn’t hold discussions with ethnic parties. I didn’t see the NLD recognize ethnic political parties as dialogue partners. Now we have heard about the formation of a national unity government for 2020-2025. We haven’t seen any practical moves, so it’s still difficult to predict [what will happen]. We will only say it when we see them make practical moves toward it.”