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Nang Htwe Hmone is the only woman in the 11-member Central Executive Committee of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD). Since 1988, she has been working as a lawyer in northern Shan State, in Namhkam, Kutkai, and in her hometown of Jelan, Muse Township, where she will compete for a seat in the Upper House in this year’s general election.
Q: How did you become involved in politics?
A: When I was a student I began volunteering as a teacher of Shan literacy classes in villages around my hometown. I saw the problems facing the villagers, and wanted to help improve their lives. As a member of the Shan Literature and Culture Association, I had taught Shan literacy for over four years till 1987 in remote areas of Shan State.
When the SNLD was formed in 1988, I joined the party and helped campaign in Muse in the 1990 elections. Both SNLD candidates in Muse won seats, including Sai Hla Pe, who won 92.4 percent of the vote in his constituency, the highest majority in the entire country. But then the Election Commission accused him and 13 other SNLD candidates from Namhkam, Muse, Hsenwi, Tangyan and Mong Yai of election fraud, and in 1992 they were all banned from competing in any elections for ten years. Of course, there were no elections held anyway at that time, so it was meaningless.
After our SNLD leaders were released from prison in January 2012, I was involved in re-registering the party in May of that year.
Q: You have had a long career working as a lawyer. What is your opinion of the rule of law in Burma?
When I began work in 1988, I was the only lawyer in Muse. I had to deal with all sorts of cases. I found that the biggest obstacle to justice was the impunity of the Tatmadaw [Burmese armed forces], and this is still true today.
One of my biggest regrets is that I couldn’t bring the killers of my own brother to justice. He was a trader, and in 1995 had gone one evening with an acquaintance to Jiegao. He was crossing back to Muse through one of the informal border crossings, when he came across three Burmese soldiers sneaking out in the other direction. They were afraid he would report them, and a witness saw them hit him in the neck with a gun. He was seriously injured, and died in hospital three days later. I tried hard to bring charges against the soldiers, but was just told that they would be dealt with by the military. I later heard that one of the soldiers involved in the incident, an officer, was simply transferred elsewhere.
Twenty years later, the Tatmadaw is still above the law. Take the case of the two Kachin teachers who were raped and killed in northern Shan State in January this year. There were 30 Burmese soldiers in the village at the time, but until today, only 20 of the soldiers have been questioned. How can the true culprits be found?
Q: The 2008 Constitution guarantees power to the military. Do you think that by joining the election under this Constitution, SNLD can bring change?
A: SNLD is working for genuine federalism, to grant equality and the right to self-determination to the ethnic peoples. For that, there needs to be constitutional change. Unfortunately, the international community is no longer putting any pressure on the government. We want international pressure to help bring about genuine political reform in Burma.
Q: There are very few female Shan politicians. What is your view on women’s role in politics?
A: I am always encouraging women to be involved in politics. In the rural areas, many men are away as soldiers, or they have become addicted to drugs. Women are taking on more responsibility. It is important for them to learn about political issues, and take on formal political roles.
Nang Htwe Hmone will contest an Upper House seat for the constituency of Muse. At the last general election, that seat was won by the USDP’s Sai Win Maung with 65,720 votes. His nearest rivals were Sai Phoe Myat of SNDP with 47,876 ballots, and Kyaw Aye of TPNP [Ta-ang (Palaung) National Party] with 37,501.