Karen Times | November 10, 2016
At its Central Executive Committee meeting on November 10, leaders and representatives of the Karen National Union decided to postpone its upcoming congress, slated to be held some time this month, for another three to six months. No specific date and time has been given when the congress will eventually take place. But according to a representative who attended the meeting, date for the congress is to be negotiated and discussed later by CEC.
KNU’s constitution stipulates that the congress is to be held every four years, in which new leadership will be elected. There is no particular article in the constitution that allows the KNU leadership to postpone the congress. But a special provision unrelated to the constitution says that the congress can be moved and postponed in time of crisis and difficult circumstance. This means that a major crisis, such as ongoing war with the Burma Army or internal upheavals, are happening and thus holding the congress is impossible.
But is there a crisis and difficult circumstance that would warrant the postponement of the congress this year? According to sources in the KNU and Karen community, supporters of the current ceasefire and peace process, particularly chairman Gen. Mutu Say Poe, argued that postponing the congress is necessary and desirable because the KNU needs continuity and smooth peace process. In other words, electing new leaders could disrupt the current ceasefire accord and peace process, and affect the “good relations and understanding” between KNU and the government built in the last five years.
Other reasons given for the postponement is that the new leaders might not have the necessary knowledge in regard to the inner working of the government and the peace process, thus the status quo should be maintained to facilitate continuity and make sure the peace process does not go off the rail. Within this in mind, according to sources in the KNU, chairman Gen. Mutu Say Poe and his supporters would like to see the congress be postponed until the current peace process and political dialogue with the government is completed.
But many in the Karen community and KNU are not buying into this argument, believing that Chairman Mutu Say Poe and his faction is deliberately trying to hold on to power and influence in order to take control of the KNU’s future direction and the peace process for their own benefits. Some are dismayed and angry at Mutu Say Poe’s argument that new leaders do not have the necessary knowledge to carry on the peace process. According to a member of the CEC, “the argument that new leaders do not have the skill and knowledge to continue the peace process is like saying that some of us are not fit to work for the KNU. It is like saying that they know better than anybody and that everyone else should follow them. This is undemocratic, because Karen revolution is founded based on the principle that every Karen have a duty and ability to contribute.”
While some in the KNU and Karen community see this as an attempt by supporters of the peace process to maintain and prolong the power of the current KNU leadership, others see it as a deliberate design, long term plan and wider strategy by the Burma Army to infiltrate and influence the future and long term political direction of the KNU. According to a Karen community activist who has been following the peace process, this is a long term strategy put in place by the previous government and the Burma Army to manipulate and influence the KNU leadership since the last congress in 2012.
He points out that the KNU’s last congress had no transparency and was conducted in a hasse manner to benefit certain faction. The ballots were not properly counted and were quickly burned to prevent recount without the knowledge of many representatives. Through bribes, pressure, and economic incentives, some district officers and military leaders in the KNU were compelled to fall in line and elect candidates who were supportive of the ceasefire and peace negotiation with the government. As a result, the congress resulted in most of the senior positions going to candidates who support KNU’s initiative to pursue peace and work with the government regardless of what is happening around the country.
Some Karen activists and analysts point to the close relationship between government officials, Burma Army and certain leaders in the KNU as sign that the government will prefer to keep the current KNU’s leadership in power. Of particularly concern and worrying to the Karen community is that the KNU’s chairman is currently being advised by a former officer in the Burma Army about the peace process. This struck a lot of nerve in the Karen community and KNU because the chairman has been mostly secretive and rarely consulted his peers regarding what he did. Some worry that he has been influenced too much by advisers outside the KNU and Karen community. As one KNU’s district officer pointed out, due to outside influence and bribe, “we may be able to hold the congress in time, but we may never be able to elect a new KNU leadership with strong revolutionary spirit that puts public interest above personal interest.”
In sum, if the reason for the postponement of the congress is to really facilitate continuity in policy and ensure a smooth peace process, it is understandable, though it is undemocratic. However, if this is part of a wider strategy and secret plan by the government and the Burma Army to infiltrate and influence the future direction of the KNU, the Karen revolution could be in a big hole with long term and irreparable consequence.
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This article originally appeared on Karen Times on November 10, 2016.