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KSPP Chair and MP Elect: Federalism Must Come First

Dr. Manam Tu Ja

Dr. Manam Tu Ja, chairperson of the Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP), was one of four KSPP candidates to win a parliamentary seat in Kachin State in Burma’s general election on November 8.

The former deputy chairperson of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) will be representing Injanyang Township in the state parliament. He is also a member of the Union Peace and Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government.

KNG spoke to Dr. Manam Tu Ja about his plans as an MP, challenges facing the KSPP in the election, and future prospects for peace in Burma.

How do you feel after being elected to represent Injangyang Township in the Kachin State parliament?

I contested for election to fulfill the needs of the people. Local people cast their ballots for me. I am so happy. I want to thank the people who cast their ballots for me. I am ready to work for them as best I can.

How will you work for them?

The Injangyang area needs a road. I think I will prioritize this. Road construction is now half-completed. I think it will be completed in 2021. I will try to bring electricity, telephone and internet service to Injangyang Township. I will discuss other MPs and work together with the government through the parliamentary process.

The KSPP didn’t win many seats in the general election. As the party chair, what do you have to say about this?

We expected to win many seats in the election but it didn’t happen. We will work with other ethnic MPs. We will do our best for the people. We are not disappointed. We will continue to try as much as we can.

The KSPP was attacked with allegations and false information during the election campaign. Can you comment on this?

Some parties were afraid that I would win the election with many votes. That’s why they attacked us with false information. For example, [it was said that] the KSPP had formed an alliance with the USDP, [or that] the KSPP received financial assistance from the USDP [Union Solidarity and Development Party], or from the KIO/KIA. We didn’t commit any wrongdoing. Some people made accusations against us with incorrect information. In the future, we will release a statement that the KSPP is an independent organization. We will try to get trust from the people.

As a parliamentarian, how will you participate in Burma’s peace process?

When we talk about peace, we believe that political problems can be solved by political means. We can solve political problems in the 21st Century Panglong Conference. Therefore, we have to hold the 21st Century Panglong Conference with true commitment. It must be an all-inclusive meeting—all stakeholders need to participate in it. The voices of all ethnic people must be expressed. Another thing is that we need a true commitment to build a federal Union. We need to discuss this. We need to hold a successful Panglong Conference.

Currently the NLD government is using the terms “democratic federal” Union but ethnic people want a “federal democratic” Union. As the KSPP chair, can you comment on this difference?

We want federal democracy. When we talk about federalism, democracy automatically follows. When we talk about democracy, federalism doesn’t automatically follow. “Federal” must come first and “democracy” should be second. If democracy comes first, then federalism will be second. We do not accept this. There will be no peace if we have democracy and do not practice a federal system. That’s why it should be “federal democracy.”

The Northern Alliance—the KIO, Arakan Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army—have not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the government and military, but they are discussing and negotiating around a bilateral ceasefire agreement. You served as deputy chairman of the KIO. Now you have become an MP. What will you do regarding this situation?

It depends. We have to look at how the NLD government will perform. We wait and see the moves by the NLD. Then we will make a decision about how to cooperate with the NLD government. If the NLD government is committed to cooperating and working together with other people, they can do this. We cannot do whatever they want. It depends on them.

If the NLD government comes to you for advice on politics or peace, what will you do?

If they come to discuss peace issues with me, I have to accept it. I will discuss federal policy. If they invite me, I am ready to participate.

How much do you expect to participate in the peace process?

It will depend on whether the winning party opens the door for us. It will depend on their invitation. It will depend on their commitment to peace. I want to talk and hold discussions with them. If they do not open the door for us and do not invite us, we can not participate in the process of dialogue. Therefore, it’s their call. If they invite us, we will discuss how to implement the 1947 Panglong Agreement. If they accept it, then, we will have genuine peace in our country.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Neither the parliament nor the government should go down the old road. We need to cooperate and try to seek a new method to solve our problems. We need collective leadership. We should not go with just one idea. We need ideas from all stakeholders. If we can practice collective leadership, we can build a federal democratic Union.

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