The Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) will field over 200 candidates in constituencies across Burma in the upcoming general election, according to its chairperson.
The confirmation comes despite earlier reports of mass defections from the party to rival Shan group the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD).
SNDP Chair Aik Pao told DVB that the party is looking to run in over 60 townships, reaching across Shan, Kachin and Karenni states, as well as Mandalay and Sagaing divisions, which are too home to ethnic Shan populations.
The party will vie for seats in the upper and lower houses of Union Parliament, as well as regional legislatures.
“We are contesting the elections with over 200 candidates who are to be appointed not by our central leadership but by township-level party members,” Aik Pao said.
The party will hold a secret ballot in each township, allowing rank and file members to select the candidates.
“In accordance with democratic standards, the township level members will cast secret votes for the nominees. The three that gain the most votes will be appointed election candidates,” said Aik Pao.
The announcement would appear to quash suggestions that the party will cede ground to the SNLD, Shan State’s other major ethnic political party.
In late June, the SNDP announced that it would not contest seats in the northern Shan State township of Namhkam to avoid splitting the Shan vote in the region.
Last year DVB reported that 5,000 members of the SNDP had defected to the SNLD over the course of 2014.
The SNDP’s ambitious plans for the upcoming elections now appears to outweigh the commitment from the SNLD, which in November will field 160 candidates across the same three states and two divisions.
The SNLD is a member of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament, a political bloc closely aligned with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
The bloc is engaged with the NLD in an effort to coordinate campaigning, with a view to avoid splitting the vote in constituencies where Suu Kyi’s party has a strong potential.
The SNLD does not have the same affinity with Burma’s main opposition. Aik Pao created the group known as the ‘White Tiger Party’ in 2010 in reaction to the SNLD’s decision to join the NLD in a boycott of that year’s general election.
The SNDP won three seats in the upper house and 18 in the lower house of parliament. After the 2012 bi-elections, which the SNLD contended, the SNDP’s standing rose to 53 MPs across Burma’s bicameral parliament and regional assemblies.
Faced with stiff opposition come November, Aik Pao says his party remains focussed on bringing about ethnic equality.
“If our party does win the elections and becomes the government of Shan State, we will bring about constitutional change and see to improving education, health, transportation and electricity sectors in the region as well as creating job opportunities,” said Aik Pao.
“At the moment, there are around one million Shan people living abroad as migrants. They will return home when jobs are created for them.”