(Interview) – National Democratic Force (NDF) leader Khin Maung Swe is preparing to take part in the third session of the Burmese Parliament, which starts on January 31. Mizzima managing editor Sein Win talked to Khin Maung Swe at the party’s headquarters in Rangoon about the Parliament, military representatives, the ethnic peacemaking process and the possible make up of the Parliament after the April 1 by-election.
Question: How do you see the make up of the new Parliament, and will the people have more influence in the processes?
Answer: How much influence the people can have will depend on the electoral results. I’m a former NLD [National League for Democracy] member. The situation of the 1990 general election and the 2010 general election were not similar. In the ethnic areas, it’s sure that most of the ethnic parties will win seats in the coming election. But, I don’t think the NLD will win all 48 parliamentary seats. Anyway, if candidates of the NLD and other democratic forces including our party can enter the new Parliament, it will be more open and transparent. As for our party, the number of seats we will win may be small; maybe two or three; if we are lucky, may be 4, 5 or 10.
In the past, the lawmaking process was delayed. In the new Parliament, the length of time for the lawmaking process will be more reasonable. Before, maybe because the oversight committees did not have experience or because of some other reasons, we experienced delays. The speed of lawmaking anyway is slow. So, to speed up the process, the democratic forces need to be strong. The stronger the democratic force, the more voice we can give to the people. The more the MPs will speak out. We believe that the role of the new Parliament will be more active than before.
Q: Could the NLD and NDF join forces?
A: We don’t see a situation in which our party needs to be dissolved. If she [Suu Kyi] had wanted, she would have told us to join with them before the NLD was re-registered. Now, it seems that she does not want to use us again, so when they registered [NLD], we were not a part of that process. Anyway, talking about cooperation, we will always welcome cooperation. We want to cooperate in order that the democratic forces can make progress in going ahead and speed up the political process. But, Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD will determine if we cooperate in that process.
Q: Have you talked to Suu Kyi about cooperating in Parliament?
A: Yes. We’ve spoken about it through the media, but she hasn’t replied because she is very busy. She has to prepare for the by-elections. So after the by-elections, the NLD may issue a statement, I think. Then, we can decide what we should do.
Q: What are the biggest challenges to bring about reform through parliamentary politics?
A: The problem in the last sessions was that former ministers answered questions in the first parliamentary session by being defensive against [the criticisms] of ministries’ actions. In the second parliamentary session, the former ministers became the chairmen of the committees. So, they tried to protect their interests. It’s only human nature to protect their interests. Even I would protect my interests. For instance, talking about the car import, they collect a very high tax. If they reduced the tax, their interests would be threatened. It’s only human nature that they cannot lower the tax immediately. Regarding the cases related to their interests, they may need more time, I think. The economic reform process will gain momentum on the basis of the President’s decisions.
Q: Some people hope that the attitude of military representatives [in Parliament] will change. On the other hand, some think that the military representatives will simply obey the orders of their superior officers.
A: Everything depends on the make-up of Parliament. Every time a new Parliament is formed, new possibilities occur. Now, the Parliament is a combination of former military officers and people from democratic groups. The situation will change as time goes on. So, there is no reason that the current MPs will exist in the next Parliament. Even the army is not the previous army.
It needs to “back up” the Constitution. Another thing is that the army does not lead the political economic and administrative processes, so the results are a more democratic environment.
Q: Do your party’s MPs and military representatives talk to each other?
A: Yes, we go together to teashops and food shops. It’s clear that the military representatives usually only support proposals. I think they will not be active unless their three main national concerns are threatened. They have about 25 percent of the Parliament. If their interests were threatened, their role would be important.
Q: Talking about political interests, we have heard that the USDP [Union Solidarity and Development Party] has some small parties under their pocket, that they’ve “bought” their support. Have you experienced that?
A: No, we they don’t have control over us. We are former NLD members. In some rural areas, there was no other party to contest; so local people invited us to contest against them.
Q: The USDP is Burma’s financially strongest party. Are there any dangers in competing with it?
A: We should not underestimate the people. Aung San Suu Kyi, the person who we can rely on, will enter parliamentary politics. She is a popular force in politics. I do not see anything dangerous. Among the USDP MPs, there are not only former military officers but also former ordinary government employees, managers and doctors. They also want democracy. If the army’s grasp on power is relaxed as time goes by, we will get to a new situation. That’s usual. We can see the events in South Korea and Peru. In the past, they were under military dictatorships and after 14 years, the opposition party won even under the current constitution drawn up by the army and after the party won, it could amend the constitution. As for us, we need to take more than one decade to amend [the Constitution].
Q: They [those countries] could conduct economic reforms successfully. Can we achieve economic reform within one decade?
A: It depends on the peace issue. Our country could collect one trillion from taxes but the military expense is 1.3 trillion. If we can establish peace, those expenses will be reduced. As a consequence, the budget allocation for education and health may be increased. Similar opportunities will arise. Opportunities will arise in ethnic areas, too. Near the end of President Thein Sein’s tenure, our country will be able to grasp economic reform, I think.
Q: How can corruption be eliminated?
A: To secure their livelihood, both superior officials and lower-level employees are involved in corruption. Just changing the habits of five top officials cannot affect lower-level employees. When the country’s economy becomes strong and it can stabilize the inflation rate and government employees earn sufficient salaries, corruption will be eliminated.
Q: Concerning peace with ethnic groups, the current cease-fire agreements largely just talk about stopping the fighting. That will not be sufficient to have long-lasting peace.
A: If the peace situation does not improve, it cannot be successful. Now, they [the government] has given promises that it will work for the development of the states. Now we’ve reached a point in which political problems will be solved via political means. So, it’s very likely that peace will be established by the time the process ends.
Q: You are optimistic that there will be long-lasting peace?
A: The government has promised that it will be brought about within three years. So, we have to wait and see. The [current] peace offer is different from the peace offers made under Ne Win’s government and peace offers in 1955 and 1963. This is the turning point.
To speak frankly, this is the military’s last chance. If they cannot establish peace, there will be very little chance for economic development. Without peace, there can be no unity. If we cannot build a genuine union, peace will not be established. So No. 1 is to establish peace.
No. 2 is to solve problems politically and amend the Constitution and make the outline for power sharing between the local governments of states/regions and the union [central] government. And [the government] needs to give autonomy. Only if peace has been established, will it dare to give autonomy. Otherwise, they will not do it. If they give autonomy [without peace], separation could occur. So peace is No. 1.
To have political equality, to create business opportunities and to improve the economy, education and health, peace is essential.
Like I said before, if the military expense which is more than one trillion is reduced, many opportunities will emerged for us. Now there will be challenges. Later, they will become opportunities. Regarding peace, although I am not optimistic, in comparison with peace processes in the past, the current peace processes are better––nobody can deny it.
Q: Regarding fighting with ethnic armed groups, some observers say the Burmese army does not want to solve the problems that could lead to long-lasting peace.
A: According to the Constitution, the government must provide leadership in forming the Border Guard Force. Just stopping the fighting is not a final solution. There will be political demands. The 1947 Constitution could not guarantee the union and the ethnic people could not have autonomy. The1974 Constitution was worse. Now, after the elections, the government’s actions are more transparent than actions in the past, so the path to peace is better.