21 January 2016 -- Ms Cheery Zahau, human rights activist, contested the 2015 general election for the Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives/Lower House). She is one of the 23 women candidates running for the elections in Chin State.
In the Chinland Guardian interview, she talked about the reasons why she and her party did not do well in the election and what the new government should focus on.
Chinland Guardian: How do you evaluate the results of the 2015 election?
Cheery Zahau: I very much welcome the new government/parliament to likely be led by NLD that has won over 79 per cent of the seats according to the Union Election Commission report. It concerns me that the ethnic representatives would not be vibrant and not strong enough in the parliament as many of our ethnic parties did not win the November poll. Although the NLD has ethnic elected MPs, they cannot make decisions because it’s the party that rules out. The party’s priority will overrule the wishes or demands by the community. We welcome the fact that ethnic MPs are given positions, but it is important that this is not just symbolic but it should reflect the real needs and voices of the ethnic communities.
I think some people from the ethnic parties who can better serve the community are not elected so it is a great disadvantage for the people.
Chinland Guardian: As a candidate contesting in Chin State, how did you find the whole process and situation of the general election?
Cheery Zahau: It was golden experiences for me as our team visited more than 160 out of 183 villages in Falam Township. I see there is much need for development in infrastructure and services. I also see the potentials of economic development. I see opportunities of expanding economic activities in far remote areas so the communities can earn extra incomes rather than entirely relying on the shifting cultivation.
I also see the hidden beauty of Chin State. It is so wonderful to see plenty of untouched natural beauty – far away from main cities and other parts of Burma.
I learnt that most of our people in Chin State are not aware of basic political terms and systems. They do what they are told. Both the NLD and the USDP told the village headmen that they had to vote for the two big parties if they wanted to keep their jobs. Some voters are lured with money and materials. So, the people are so caught up with this kind of campaign. So, we will see if the elected MPs deliver their promises.
Chinland Guardian: And is there anything - regarding the whole process of election - you see differently as a woman candidate?
Cheery Zahau: Our community is very conservative. Because I am a woman and single, my opponents focus on defamatory attack instead of talking about issues concerning the voters. My opponents used nasty/dirty tricks to defame me during the pre-election period. We did not send complaints to the election commission just because of the traditional beliefs that disputes should be resolved privately, not at the political station or courts.
I learnt that most of our Chin community members are not ready to have a woman leader. This will lead us backward as many capable Chin women will not dare to come forward in politics.
Chinland Guardian: Why do you think the Chin Progressive Party was not as successful in terms of the results?
Cheery Zahau: We do not have enough human and financial resources. Our ethnic parties are very weak; we don’t have sources of income, apart from personal contribution by the candidates. We were campaigning within 60 days as the official campaign period is 60 days. However, the NLD had been gearing up for the elections more than 12 months.
The NLD accused the CPP of being a proxy USDP - which is not true and not fair. This is just one example and there are many more.
I think we did not prepare enough in advance. We had very limited time.
Chinland Guardian: We have heard people talking about the need for merging Chin political parties and standing for the next election as just one party in Chin State. What do you say?
Cheery Zahau: Yes, we, the Chin parties, need to come together and find ways to merge into one or collaborate more. Not only CPP and CNDP but other smaller parties that are based on the Chin tribes.
Chinland Guardian: As you have been to places in Chin State, what should the new government, both State and Central, put priority on for the people?
Cheery Zahau: The main problem facing the Chin people is poverty. We should remember that the poverty rate in Chin State is over 73 per cent, the highest in the whole country. So, both the State and Union governments must focus on this.
Chinland Guardian: Will you run for the next election?
Cheery Zahau: It will depend on the people and the political environment.
Chinland Guardian: Your messages to the Chin people as a whole and women in particular.
Cheery Zahau: The people have exercised their rights to vote and they should continue exercising their rights to ensure the government is fulfilling their needs and deliver their promises.
I want to express my sincere gratitude to my supporters, voters and campaign teams and everyone who support me.#