The Karen National Union 16th Congress vote, scheduled for March 2017, is looking like one of the most critical elections the KNU has held. Observers note that the outcome will decide which KNU faction will lead the organization’s efforts to work on securing peace for the Karen people.
In determining who can vote at the KNU’s 16th Congress, members of the Karen National Union Executive Committee made a decision that only representatives from its administration areas can vote or run for office.
The decision was made at the KNU EC meeting on 22 December 2016, despite a previous KNU EC 2015 agreement to allow Karen overseas groups to have a vote at its Congress elections
According to sources from KNU, during the 15th Congress held on November 26, 2012, several rounds of discussion were held on allowing the overseas Karen a vote and finally there was agreement to allow them to vote.
Regional observers criticized the last KNU EC decision in downgrading the Karen overseas involvement and said that this had overruled the agreement made at its 15th Congress.
Padoh Saw Thaw Thi Bwe, joint secretary of the KNU who is serving as chairperson for the 16th Congress Organizing Committee Spoke to Karen News about the decision.
“It was decided that way as the representatives of KNU Congress are based on the administrative structure and its controlled areas which are all the way up from villages, village tracts, townships and districts. Only these representatives will be entitled to vote or run for offices.”
Regional observers told Karen News that this “weakens opposition to the current regime”. The observers explained that the struggle within KNU’s current EC “boils down to how the Karen negotiates the peace process. Currently the KNU is divided by 1) a faction that supports pro engagement with Burma’s military and 2) a group who wants the peace negotiations to be between the National League for Democracy, a democratically elected government rather than a party such as former President, U Sein Thein’s military supported Union Solidarity and Development Party government.”
The observers said it is “imperative that the NLD government start to drive and control the country’s military. At the moment it is the military controlling the politicians and the political situation in Burma.”
A KNU source told Karen News that it is a concern that the “military has started using a tactic to classify ethnic armed groups as terrorist organizations. This will allow the military’s propaganda to set the armed groups up as needing to be destroyed.”
The KNU source pointed out that the Karen have rarely gone on the offensive outside their own territory – “we use weapons to defend our people.”
The KNU source told Karen News that the Burma Army’s offensive against the Northern Alliance and will make the proposed 21 Century Panglong Conference unworkable.
“The 21 Century Conference has to all inclusive if not fighting will continue. Without these groups [Nth Alliance] attending the Conference, the fighting will intensify and possibly involve ceasefire group against non-ceasefire group.”
The senior KNU source pointed out that as the “international community is funding the conference they need to be concerned, very concerned about how the peace process is conducted.”
The KNU source warned that if “they [international funders] allow the military to control and manipulate the peace process they are part of the problem and need to urgently address what their role is.”
The latest KNU EC meeting also discussed the attendance of representatives from Karen political parties and civil society organizations to its 16th Congress. It was agreed that 15 people from Karen political parties and civil society organizations will be allowed to attend as observers and seven out of 15 overseas KNU’s representatives will be allowed to attend as observers.
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