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ETHNIC ISSUES

Rising Arakanese Party Could Further Marginalize Rohingya

Burma’s elections are likely to worsen the plight of Rohingya Muslims, with a new, hardline Buddhist party on the brink of becoming a formidable force.


SITTWE, Arakan State — Burma’s historic elections next month are likely to worsen the plight of the country’s oppressed Rohingya Muslim community, with a new, hardline Buddhist party on the brink of becoming a formidable force

The empowerment of ethnic nationalists in Arakan State at the western edge of the Southeast Asian nation could intensify discrimination of the stateless Rohingya, thousands of whom have fled in recent years to neighboring countries.

The government has barred most Rohingya from both voting and registering as candidates, drawing sharp criticism from the United Nations and undermining Burma’s efforts to portray the Nov. 8 poll as its first free and fair election in 25 years.

The Arakan National Party (ANP), an organization of ethnic Arakanese Buddhists, was formed last year.

It lobbied hard to disenfranchise Burma’s “temporary citizens,” including most of the one million Rohingya living in apartheid-like conditions in Arakan State, and maintains that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite many living in Burma for generations.

“This is ANP, we see, we come, we conquer,” says a sign on a whiteboard at ANP’s headquarters in the state capital Sittwe. The party is handing out leaflets saying: “Love your nationality, keep pure blood, be Rakhine [Arkanese] and vote ANP.”

Rohingya make up about one-third of Arakan State’s population and many are virtual prisoners in camps or in segregated villages, subject to restrictions on travel and, in some areas, access to health care and education.

“For the constituencies where there were many white card holders, we now have a better chance to win,” said Aye Nu Sein, the ANP’s vice-chairwoman, referring to the now-nullified identification cards issued to “temporary citizens” under the previous military regime.

The ANP would like to see the Rohingya moved into camps or deported, she said.

“We don’t accept the term ‘stateless’ being used by the international community. They came from Bangladesh, they have the same religion, race, perceptions and traditions as people in Bangladesh,” she said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has voiced disgust.

“I am deeply disappointed by this effective disenfranchisement of the Rohingya and other minority communities,” he said last month. “Barring incumbent Rohingya parliamentarians from standing for re-election is particularly egregious.”

In the 2010 election, three out of 29 representatives elected to the national Parliament from Arakan State were Rohingya. Two Rohingya lawmakers were also chosen to be among the 35 elected members of the Arakan State regional assembly that year.

But this year it may well be a near-clean sweep for the ANP.

The party is contesting all but one of the 64 seats in the national and regional Arakan State races. It is also running candidates in 14 seats outside the state. One of its aims is to win the powerful post of chief minister of Arakan State.

“If the ANP wins the expected landslide, they will claim a strong mandate to secure the chief minister position and pursue their political agenda—including, potentially, further restrictions on the Muslim population,” said Richard Horsey, an independent political analyst in Rangoon.

“The ANP would also have a somewhat stronger voice than they do now in national politics, and would form part of a Buddhist-conservative bloc in the new Parliament,” Horsey said.

However, the Arakanese have a fraught relationship with Burma’s Burman majority as well. Although the Burman are also predominantly Buddhist, Arakanese claim their region has been neglected for decades.

Both of Burma’s national parties, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, are predominantly Burman.

Suu Kyi is planning a trip to Arakan State in mid-October, but she will not talk about the Rohingya or citizenship issues, Win Htein, a senior member of the NLD, told Reuters.

“If we do so, they would attack us. We’ll just say: ‘Vote NLD,’” he said.

He added that the Arakanese people had become “super patriots” and conceded that the NLD faced an uphill battle against the ANP in most of the state’s constituencies, where the NLD is seen as pro-Muslim and sympathetic to the Rohingya.

The ruling USDP, which is viewed in Arakan State as unconcerned with development in one of the country’s poorest states, also faces long odds except in a few areas that have abundant military populations, experts say.

The ANP’s popularity has been fed by a tide of anti-Muslim sentiment that surfaced after reforms started in 2011, erupting into communal violence in 2012. At least 200 were killed and more than 140,000, mainly Rohingya, were displaced in fighting between Muslims and Buddhists in Arakan State.

Arakanese Buddhists say they have little doubt who will come to power.

“ANP is the strongest party in Rakhine State,” said Kyaw Lwin, a shop owner in Sittwe. “No matter how they [other parties] try, our Rakhine people will vote for Rakhine nationals.”

7 Comments
TineYinThar

That’s the spirit! Vote for your own ethnic groups so they can represent your needs in the parliament and government. Voting for NLD who know very little about serious, real and practical issues happening in ethnic regions, will do no good. NLD would have enough voice in parliament from Yangon, Mandalay and big cities. Another scenario of one party domination – just like USDP, especially ASSK cannot work with anyone else – always me, me, me. If NLD wins, the first thing they would target is to change constitution – military veto and ASSK to become president, neglecting the welfare and economic development for the greater good.

As for Rohingyas (I’m sorry that they are marginalized and suffering), the reality is that if you go around and do a survey among regular citizens in Myanmar, this is not an issue that they are particularly concerned with for 80% of them. There are many ethnic groups living in war-torn conditions – Kachin, Karen, Chin, etc in the border area of China, India and Thailand. They are also hundreds of thousands displaced and under the threat of bombs and gunfire – who are legitimate citizens of Myanmar. Why don’t you cover more stories like that, instead of harping on about Rohingyas?!

MaBaTha has made this election into race and religion issue. International organizations and western governments like to apply pressure on this Rohingyas topic, which can be detrimental to overall growth of the country and makes myanmar look criminal in the eyes of outsiders, who know very little of the country’s background and history. In fact, rohingya issue is more of an economic problem than race and religion crisis but western media have portrayed as ethnic cleansing and targeted social exclusion of muslims. I even saw a segment on CNN mentioning Rohingyas are more heavily taxed than other races. What bullocks!

There are many ‘boat’ migrants going across the seas and everyone is claiming that Myanmar is torturing and persecuting them and that’s why they are fleeing. That is incorrect and not all of them are from Myanmar. Majority are from Bangladesh. Human beings will move to other regions for the betterment of their livelihood. Many of our ancestors have done that and it is still happening around the world and it has hardly anything to do with religion. In the US, the term ‘fresh off the boat’ or FOB is often used to describe immigrants.

Regardless of how long Rohingyas have lived in Rakhine state, they are not in the official list of 135 ethnic groups, indigenous to Myanmar. Outsiders should respect that. Stop forcing Myanmar to accept and take care of them because Myanmar can’t even take of the other 135 groups! Please fix you own countries before reprimanding a poor country like Myanmar.

If OIC is seriously concerned with the treatment of minority muslims in Myanmar, why are you not offering to take them back to your own countries and get them to integrate into your society? It is amazing to see that none of the muslim countries (even the oil rich ones) are taking in any of the syrian refugees! The same goes to all these human rights groups and western funded civil society groups. Just to give an example – top 1% richest owns 40% of wealth in the US. Black people have been poorly treated all along in the US and after 240 years of independence, the US has a black president. Please think of context and perspective when you want to ridicule Myanmar – Ban Ki Mon, Quintana and any other visiting delgate! Life is never fair, even in rich developed countries. Inequality, and unfairness is everywhere in the world.

While Myanmar should aspire to other more democratic and developed countries, you can’t expect it to strictly adhere to the rules and standards of those countries. It is unfair and impractical. During the early days of industrial revolution in Europe and US hundreds of years ago, I’m certain there were many cases of human rights abuse, slavery and lack of consideration to the environment. At that time, there was no UN or other organizations policing and judging what US and european countries were doing. Just to give an example, everyone knows child labor is bad because children should be going to school. But if the family is very poor in Myanmar and the decision is to sell the child to sex trafficking / slavery vs. getting the child to work in a garment factory, is that so bad? Another example would be power projects. Coal fired power plants are highly pollutive but cheap. So all the aid agencies do not want to fund such projects but only clean energy (not so efficient), LNG (quite expensive compared to coal) or gas-fired. But Myanmar would need quick and cheap solutions for power, together with clean, long-term and expensive solutions.

Decisions always involve trade-offs. If you always wait for perfection, you will not even get anything started. The same goes in this election as well. Myanmar will move step by step to democracy in her own pace and path. If you cannot practically help (in the case of rohingyas – why is everyone else getting blamed but not the rohingyas? After hundreds of years of living and staying in the country, why can’t they integrate to overall society, don’t tell me it’s religion because there are many muslims and mosques in major cities and assimilating well with other citizens; everyone is responsible for their own well-being at the end of the day; don’t confuse economic conditions of Rakhine State with religion – there are many groups of people living below poverty line in Myanmar), stop telling us why we should be doing this or that.

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Tabinshwehti

Absolotely 100% true.Fully agree with it. The worst of the problem with these begali so called rohingya people, majority are illegal economic migrant from Bangladash, they are trying to carve out the western part of Arakan State of Myanmar, their goal is to establish the independent Islamic State and that are supported by Bangladash and OIC Countries with tacit supports from US, Western Europe and UN. US, Western Europe and UN , they don’t care about the Rakaing People and The Myanmar Country but they have their own long term geopolitical interests and self interests with these OIC countries.Regardless of what the Myanmar People will never allow that to happen at all costs.

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Zaw Min

Migration is good and acceptable if migrants move from one place to another and blends into the new place almost always improving the lives and situation of migrants as well as those who are already there. That was how the US became great as well as our fellow Asean country Singapore. But when those moving in do not blend in and force their own way of living on those who are already there, than it become an invasion and will be repelled in majority of the instances violently. Yes a lot of foreigners, Arabs, Persians, Bengalis, Portuguese, Dutch, Englishman and even Japanese Samurais come, work and some even settled permanently in the Rakhine Kingdom. But all were migrations that blend in with the Rakhine natives and some like “Kamans” (probably Dinet also but I’m not sure as I’m not well versed in this) had become part of the ethnic minority in the State even though they are of foreign origins at first. But in the case of the Bengalis, it was not the Rakhine but the English who let them in. At the break of the Second World War, the immigrants had turned on the locals killing many locals resulting in migrants becoming a majority in Buthidaung and Maungdaw. With their continued population explosion and more illegal migrations, they now had become a third of the whole state. When Burma became independent, these migrants were led by their foolish leaders into a revolting status asking for their own Muslim land which was not granted and militarily subdued. Still the situation worsens as the successive military governments and corrupt officials kept a blind eye to oppress the Rakhines and/or profit from continued illegal migration. No one should blame the Rakhines when the time was right, they start pushing back the migration that has become an invasion. On the other hand, those who migrated illegally come for a better life so as long as they are not imposing their way of lives on the locals, they shouldn’t be considered as invaders. But when things had gone out of control for such a long period of time, and with foolishness of many leaders, it is not an easy matter to blame one another or expect a quick solution. So I’m back to my election slogan to vote for the ethnic minority parties, progressive non NLD-USDP-NUP parties and independents. Do not vote for NLD-USDP-NUP unless the voter is absolutely sure that the individual candidate will stand for democracy and human rights instead of being a follower to a dictator, an authoritarian and a dictator-to-be. This is the only way we’ll reach our goal of a Union of Myanmar with federalism, human rights, and just law. And this is the only way our country and its people (including the Bengali or Rohingya) will be out of whatever sort of misery they faced.

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Tabinshwehti

Absolutely correct ! The Britisk Colony Goverment at the time, brought about thousands of bengali muslims mostly from the Chittagong Area, formerly called East India, now called Bangladash to use them as cheal, manual laborors. The Bristish Government also armed them to fight the occupying Japanese Forces in Burma then. However, these newly armed bengali muslims , instead of fighting the occupying Japanese Forces, they turned their weapons and slaughtered and massacred unarmed, local ethnic arakanese buddhists people. As a result, at least,30,000 local ,ethnic arakanese buddhist people died, about 250 arakanese villiges and towns were destroyed and burned in 1942. The invading bengali muslims took over the local arakanese villages and towns since then. I am surprised that the people in Burma do not talk or mention about this horrible past event happened in Burma in 1942 which is called the Buddhist Genocide by the invading bengali muslims in Arakan Stat. Since then Buthidaung and Maung Taw towns, the majority population becomes bengali muslims people..

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Mohammed Islam

It is an ethnic cleansing policy of Rakhine and its supporters. They Rakhine Buddhists are going against International Laws and violating International Human Rights. So, it must be seriously attention by International Community and leaders.
Thanks.

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Yarzarthingyan

Nothing wrong with Arakan Army gaining strength, for that matter Arakan navy. . However, distancing from Myanmar heartland would render Arakan vulnerable to major eruptions and assault from outside, a probability within a decade. Stay in close alliance with NLD . You must vote in unison with NLD. Just voicing your concern at union level may not be enough. You have to get a friendly government. Personally, you cannot allow Myanmar army to look upon Arakan Army as a separate entity. You may be mistaken for Rohingyas, who want to carve out that piece of land from Myanmar. History remembers in 1790 [Ba Gyi Daw] , we are one nation.
Secession would be suicidal.

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Tin Win

Why you the Arakanese people are destroying their own land by creating a series of violences discriminately. Time keeps changing and there is always a downfall waiting for those who ignore all natural warnings.

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