There was great frustration suffered in many constituencies where the 4 separate ethnic Karen parties: The Phalon-Sawow Democratic Party, the Karen National Democratic Party (KNDP) based in Karen State and Karen People’s Party (KPP) based in Yangon Region and the Karen National Party (KNP) based in Ayeyawady Region all split the vote that help the 2 big parties especially the NLD to bag the seats.
On November 14, the Karen-based Phalon-Sawow Democratic Party issued a statement, suggesting that the Karen people across the country should form a single Karen party together with The Kayin People’s Party (KPP) based in Yangon.
Saw Say Wah Vice-Chair of the KPP made a positive response saying “The Karen parties have the desire to make a merger. We need to seek ways of how to overcome the obstacles because, in practice, a merger of Karen parties is not easy. We have been trying it for five years. We have a plan to make further discussions”.
However, Kyaw Nyein, General Secretary of the Karen National Party (KNP) was more skeptical noting “ a merger of Karen parties in Ayeyawady Region would not have outnumbered the NLD vote. Those who have been in the big parties need to join the Karen parties in order that the Karen parties may achieve success.”
However, in other constituencies outside the Ayeyawady region that is not the case and the split vote of two Karen parties would have defeated the NLD in Karen State seats.
In 2010, the Karen parties were officially registered. Some candidates from the Phalon-Sawow Democratic Party, the Karen State Democracy and Development Party and the Karen People’s Party secured the seats in the 2010 General Elections.
Some party members from the Phalon-Sawow Democratic Party formed the Karen Democratic Party (KDP) after breaking away from the party. In 2014, the Karen National Party (KNP) was formed in Yangon. In Hpa-an in Karen State, the United Karen National Democratic Party was formed. The total number of Karen political parties has reached six.
Before the 2015 General Elections, the Karen parties discussed a merger plan. But they were unable to make a merger as the election drew to close. Only one candidate from the KPP secured the seat for Karen State parliament though all six Karen parties competed in the 2015 General Elections.
After the 2015 General Elections, the discussion on a merger of Karen parties resumed. In February 2018, the Karen National Democratic Party was formed with some leaders from the Karen Democratic Party (KDP), the Karen State Democracy and Development and Progressive Party, the United Karen National Democratic Party and the Phalon-Sawow Democratic Party.
Despite the merger the Phalon-Sawow Democratic Party was not disbanded. The party competed in three constituencies outside the Karen State in the 2020 General Elections so as to avoid the confrontation among the Karen parties in Karen State.
There are more than two million Karen people (west Poe Karen) in Ayeyawady Region and around one million (East Poe Karen) in Karen State.
Most of Sgaw Karen people are living in Bago, Yangon, Tanintaryi and Thailand-Myanmar border. The Karen National Union (KNU) uses Sgaw Karen language as an official language.