Hearing out the Elected: Interview with an NLD’s Representative

The National League for Democracy has been a long-time threat to the military since its formation in 1988. The tremendous support that NLD received from the public had irritated the military during the democratization period, and the result of the 2020 General Election, where the NLD won a landslide for the second time, changed the fate of the entire country by pushing Min Aung Hlaing to stage a coup. More than 18 months after the coup, the revolution transformed into an armed resistance with the parallel government National Unity Government (NUG) in the leadership position, supported by local resistance leaders and fighters, striking civil servants, and diasporic fundraisers. This month, we talked to U Bo Bo Oo, an NLD MP-elect who is not new to parliamentary politics as he was elected as a lawmaker for Sanchaung Township of Yangon in the 2015 General Election. He was about to assume public office at Yangon Regional Parliament when the coup was staged. After the coup, he is now serving as a member of the Committee Representing Yangon Hluttaw (CRYH). We had a chat with him to find out what and how the NLD has been contributing to the revolution.

MM: Today, we as the general public, non-experts, see that NUG is taking charge in the anti-regime revolution, what do you think is the NLD’s main contribution to the cause?

BBO: NLD is a political party that has won landslide elections in the past, including the 2020 election. The party focused on national reconciliation – attempted to include all party representatives, as well as the military representatives. From the amendment of the 2008 Constitution, the party had planned ahead for a new administration but the coup happened as everybody knew. All our leaders were detained, CRPH was formed, and the political landscape completely changed. Now that we are in wartime, defending ourselves from the military regime. We have to look ahead at the flag to see who’s leading us, and The NUG holds the flag right now, taking the lead. No group, even NLD, should try to take the leadership that NUG has now, but rather support them.

MM: What’s the relationship between the NLD and the NUG now?

BBO: After winning the 2020 Election, the NLD was prepared in various aspects to commence a new parliament – such as warmly welcoming all other political parties. But it all went down the drain when the coup was staged. As things unfolded, as we know, CRPH was formed, then the NUG was formed. Since the NLD won by landslide, of course, the number of NLD representatives is large in the NUG. Throughout this journey, the NLD as a political party has supported and cooperated with the NUG’s political moves.

MM: In addition to supporting the NUG, what kind of tasks does the party have?

BBO: The NLD accepts that the NUG’s declaration of defensive war is a just war. Since the NLD is a political party, there is no policy for its members to take up arms. But we do not interfere with the NUG’s declaration of war which was derived from the requirements of the current political climate. The NLD members and the NUG cabinet members have good relations. As a political party, we value democracy, and we continue to work for the public.

MM: We were under the impression that the SAC set out to demolish the NLD party in the early days of the coup, yet it seems Min Aung Hlaing is backtracking on that mission, maybe attempting to include the party in his scam election, what do you think changed his mind?

BBO: It’s because the State Administration Council (SAC) is afraid of China. China, both as a nation and the Chinese Communist Party, requested the SAC not to abolish the NLD. The support came not because the parties shared core values, but because the CCP knew that if the NLD was abolished in Myanmar, more complications would arise. China knows very well that the NLD received tremendous support from the public. The military always underestimated the support we get from the public: from the 2012 election to the very recent 2020 election. What I’m trying to say is that the NLD is a people’s party because NLD members are willing to do anything for the people. And CCP understands that. That’s why it stands with the NLD to prevent Myanmar from getting worse.

MM: So what’s the NLD and China’s relationship?

BBO: In the past, China didn’t really care about the NLD, they only cared about the USDP. But, the time when DASSK won a parliamentary seat in 2012 and President Xi’s rise to power in 2013 coincide. We could say that they became contemporary leaders. Later China understands the role of NLD, and the support NLD gets from the people. It’s only been about a decade since China started engaging with us.

MM: Are you aware of any official requests from the ASEAN Special Envoy to meet with the NLD representative? If you cannot speak on behalf of the party, please make a comment as an observer.

BBO: In deciding which side to engage with, diplomatic missions and UN agencies look at who gets control of the capital. Whoever gets control of administrative systems is favored in this way. In addition to having control of Naypyidaw, the military pressured these international missions not to engage with CRPH and NUG. Apparently, these diplomatic missions and UN agencies had to follow these rules. It seems whatever statement they issue, they end up following the restrictions that SAC issues. But one interesting thing is that the SAC has not imposed strict directives on engagement with the NLD so far though. In this case, what confuses these foreign missions is that some members of the NLD are also members of CRPH or NUG. So I think they try to find and engage with someone who is neutral, who is an NLD member but also does not irritate the SAC much. You may have heard rumors about some NLD members planning to meet this ASEAN envoy, but in the end, nobody dared to represent the NLD. Without the blessing of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, nobody can meet anyone on behalf of the NLD.

MM: If somebody from the party should meet the envoy tomorrow, whom do you think should represent the NLD flag, and what should be his or her message?

BBO: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has the blessing from the party to lead the dialogues. I think there is no point in protesting the ASEAN envoy or their five-point consensus. We must rather prepare what we want when the time comes for dialogues. Min Aung Hlaing had already laid out three preconditions he wanted. We must tell the world what we want, and how we want. It is the duty of politicians to express the people’s will in those dialogues.

What I’m trying to say is that political problems should be resolved in political ways. One side can’t eradicate the other entirely. There will be a time to resolve the problems with dialogues. Different people will have different opinions to uproot the military rule, but we all have the same goal, to end the military dictatorship in Myanmar. We must look far ahead; we can’t be shortsighted.

MM: Are you trying to say that DASSK is the only person to have such dialogues? We can’t make sense of DASSK leading dialogues considering the current situation where she’s kept and not allowed to meet with any envoy who’s come and visited. Isn’t it a deadlock unless somebody represents the NLD on her behalf?

BBO: We’ve asked multiple times for the release of all political prisoners. We’ve demanded to acknowledge the 2020 Election results, and implement them. This does not mean that we are trying to bring the 2008 Constitution back. But we must be clear about what we want – but also we must think of the most plausible way to end the vicious cycle of military coups.

MM: On July 5, the NLD issued a statement that claimed that there were attempts by some party members to reopen NLD offices. Could you provide further/more precise information on this claim?

BBO: There are only fewer than five members who attempted, that much I’ll say. And you know there are certain forces that want Myanmar’s turmoil to be over soon, so persuasion and influences of these forces can also be sensed over this handful of people. But I’d say it’s not a success. We experienced back in 2010 when some members parted ways with us, but it’s only a small fraction of the party that it did not even matter.

MM: If the SAC succeeds in holding an election in 2023, do you foresee some of the members might jump ship and proceed to join it, under the flag of the NLD regardless of the objection from both the public and the hierarchy?

BBO: It’s a very difficult move to completely go against the public’s will. Politicians will not survive without the backing of the people. Even if certain people leave the NLD, and enter the election, I don’t think it’s going to be a success.

MM: As an elected representative of the people through an election, what’s the best one can do in this revolution besides supporting the armed resistance?

BBO: Parliamentarians have three major tasks: law-making, checking and balancing the government, and representing the people. In this current political climate, it’s very difficult to conduct checks and balances with the government. So that’s out of the picture. In terms of lawmaking, we amended certain laws and regulations to support the defensive war. This is what we did as lawmakers. Personally, I’ve held town hall meetings with my constituents, I was also engaged with my constituents in Dala to provide water for them. We also helped with supporting CDM workers from our respective constituencies. I can promise you that most of the NLD MP-elects, although not picking up arms, are working for the people, and we are working 24/7 for our people.

MM: Anything that you would like to add?

BBO: As long as Min Aung Hlaing is in control, Myanmar’s politics will never be good. He shouldn’t have any power in Myanmar’s politics. As for the future of the military, the institution must serve the public, and shouldn’t be above the public or any elected government. I want to suggest all political leaders prepare for the most plausible ways to end this turmoil. The last thing I want to say is that the people will win eventually.

The interview was conducted in July 2022 and published in the following month’s magazine issue. Download it here: https://bit.ly/3Yej8vm.

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