USDP turns eyes to Shan state

The victorious party in Burma’s recent elections has met with a prominent Shan party days after analysts claimed it was looking to court ethnic groups prior to taking power.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), led by Burmese prime minister Thein Sein, won 76 percent of the November vote, giving it a clear majority in parliament.

But this appears to have done little to ease concerns about the clout of ethnic parties in a country where more than 30 percent of the population is non-Burman. USDP representatives this week courted an Arakanese party as speculation emerged of a possible power-sharing deal, mirroring similar rumours that circulated after its meeting last week with the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP).

“The USDP’s secretary Htay Oo proposed a good-will meeting so our chairman [Sai Ai Pao] went to see them,” said Saw Than Myint, the SNDP’s MP-elect in Kachin state. “They want to become friendly with ethnic parties that will become part of the parliament.”

He said however that the two parties “did not discuss forming an alliance – it’s a bit early for that”, with the first session of parliament not due to convene until February next year.

Added to the USDP’s parliamentary majority is a constitutional decree that awarded 25 percent of seats to pre-appointed military men. Although the ruling junta promised a transformation to civilian rule, this appears not to be the case.

Low-intensity conflict between ethnic armies and the Burmese army has undermined the junta’s attempts to gain control of the whole country. Such is the scant level of support it receives in many ethnic areas that it scrapped voting for the 7 November elections in more than 3,000 villages in the volatile border regions, ruling around one million out of the polls.

The SNDP includes members of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), which came second in the last elections in 1990. That vote was won overwhelmingly by the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), despite the junta expecting an easy win for its proxy, the National Unity Party.

Around five million people live in Shan state, which shares borders with China, Laos and Thailand. It is also home to Burma’s largest ethnic army, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), which has developed into the key military threat to the ruling junta. With the SNDP ostensibly representing the interests of the Shan ethnic group, the USDP appears keen to shore up support there prior to taking office.

But the SNDP has said it will ally itself to four other ethnic parties from Arakan, Chin, Mon and Karen states. Saw Than Myint said the alliance hadn’t yet reached a formal agreement, but would look to “negotiate…together to bring equal ethnic rights”.

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