By Ei Cherry Aung / Myanmar Now
Doi Bu is a joint-secretary of the Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State (UDPKS) and one of the party’s two Lower House lawmakers.
She represents Injangyang Township and will defend her seat in the constituency again in the upcoming general election on Nov. 8. In the northern state, her party will square off with a number of Kachin-based parties, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to compete for one Upper House, two Lower House and six state legislature seats.
In 2010, the party first contested the general elections and came in for criticism for participating in the flawed polls, which were boycotted by the NLD and many other ethnic parties. Those elections saw Doi Bu and her colleague take up a seat in the USDP-dominated parliament, where she has worked with lawmakers from the USDP and the opposition.
Myanmar Now reporter Ei Cherry Aung recently interviewed the 53-year-old lawyer about her election campaign plans and the ongoing ethnic conflict in her state in northern Myanmar.
Question: Candidates will have 60 days to campaign for the elections. Will this period be long enough for you and other candidates in Kachin State?
Answer: It depends on the area of the constituency. For me it is OK, although my constituency of Injangyang Township poses transportation difficulties and the population is sparse. The number of eligible voters is around 1,000 in total. There are no IDPs [internally displaced people] in my constituency.
Q: What sort of promises will you make when you campaign for the election?
A: I will not conduct a campaign with promises. But I can say I will never betray my people as an ethnic Kachin, and I will try my best not only for the Kachin people but for all nationalities in our state. Only then, my efforts will truly cover the whole state. I am determined to do my best for all people. Their votes will help to amend the constitution, ensure democratic practices and solve land-grabbing cases.
Q: What were your difficulties during the 2010 campaign?
A: We won our seats in the parliament in the 2010 elections after aligning with the Union Solidarity and Development party. Only a small number of candidates from our party got into the parliament. In the parliament, you have to work with everyone regardless of ethnicity or party affiliation. In the 2010 campaign, other ethnic parties mistakenly thought our party was backed by the military, but we represent Kachin state. As we also worked for other ethnic people here, such as [ethnic] Shan and Burmese. Ordinary people misjudged us thinking we betrayed our own ethnic group, this caused some confusion among the people.
Although all political parties have to compete in the campaign period, their collaboration [after elections] is essential for the development of the country. Any legislation or adopting any policy requires collaboration of political parties in parliament. Ordinary people and some political parties do not understand this approach as they have no experience with this development - this is a major challenge and difficulty for us.
Q: Do you face any particular challenges as a woman lawmaker?
A: I have to leave my children at home and stay in Naypyitaw nearly the whole year. Even though I need to take care of my children, I cannot do it. This is a major problem.
Q: What is your assessment of the peacemaking efforts of President Thein Sein’s government in Kachin State?
A: Peace talks could be held at the table during the administration of President U Thein Sein. But clashes are ongoing, despite peace negotiations, causing a loss of public trust in the peacemaking efforts of the government and a failure to make lasting peace. U Thein Sein could not control the military effectively as president. If government troops stopped their offensive peace would be prevailing now in Kachin State. Also, representatives from the government or the military never accepted our reports on the actual situation on the ground. Instead they disliked criticism, such a mindset has hindered peace efforts.
Q: What is your view of the work of the government’s ceasefire negotiator Minister Aung Min?
A: I think he did his best during negotiations. He tried to understand the feelings of the ethnic people. However, that’s not enough. All the stakeholders need to be more like him. Ethnic groups should not see every issue with skepticism; they should try and see things from different viewpoints. The military should also engage with parliamentarians.
Q: How has the situation in terms of rule of during in Kachin State during the five years of President Thein Sein’s term?
A: I don’t see any significant development in many sectors such as the judicial system. Corruption still prevails in the country. People are suffering many hardships in conflict-affected areas due to the lack of rule of law. Illegal trafficking of timber, gold and jade, as well as violence and rape cases, have surged during the term of this government.
Q: Has there been a decline in international support for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kachin State?
A: International donors also have to consider the needs of IDPs in other parts of the world, in addition to the displaced persons in Kachin. Therefore, Kachin IDPs need to take care of their own lives themselves, but the ongoing conflict poses risks to them.
No one can provide humanitarian aid to IDPs for a long time. I will persist in urging for a ceasefire, and peace talks will take time. However, lasting peace will guarantee the return of civilians to their livelihoods. Some international organisations have proposed giving humanitarian aid to the IDPs only when the conflict ends. The parliament has been discussing to have the IDPs go home, but that would come to nothing if the relevant authorities do not take necessary actions.
Q: The Myitsone hydropower dam on the Irrawaddy River in Kachin State was suspended in 2011. Do you expect the project to resume in the future?
A: President U Thein Sein is expected to continue suspension of this project if he could take office for another term. But if someone else becomes president after 2015 we cannot be sure what will happen. The Chinese company [CPI] is trying to resume this project and will demand compensation for its losses. Not only the Kachin people, but people in the whole country are concerned about the Myitsone project. Therefore, the consent of the Myanmar people is crucial for this project.
Q: What, according to you, is the prospect of achieving peace during the next government?
A: It depends on the people who will be involved in the next government and who will lead this government. They must have a genuine desire to improve the welfare of ethnic peoples. They must have influence on the military, but it is likely that the military will want to overrule the head of government. The potential leader of Myanmar needs to be capable to change this situation. The military plays a crucial role in the peace process; the commander-in-chief of the defence forces must have a willingness to ensure peace in collaboration with the ethnic people. The next cabinet should also include ethnic leaders. In recent peace talks, all the leaders are [ethnic] Burmese people who did not accept the ideas of the [ethnic armed groups’] peace negotiators. Furthermore, opinions and views of women were neglected. The stakeholders need to listen to the voices of ethnic people and women.