The Irrawaddy speaks with Kyaw Zaw Oo, the independent MP-elect for Sittwe Constituency 2 in the Arakan State Parliament, about the policies he plans to put forth and his vision for the troubled state capital. A former member of the RNDP and Arakan National Party (ANP), Kyaw Zaw Oo surpassed his rivals from major parties including the National League for Democracy (NLD), which fared enormously well in most parts of the country but struggled in the western Arakan State.
What was your occupation before entering politics?
I was a journalist working for The Myanmar Times. I was also an engineer and an English teacher. At present, I earn a living as an English teacher, while I engage in politics. I won the election in Sittwe Constituency 2.
Why did you choose to enter politics, and why did you contest as an independent?
I was away from Sittwe for 15 years before I retuned five years ago. I came back to serve the interests of my region. I have made a living teaching English. As I worked as an English teacher, I happened to engage in politics actively. Over the past five years, I supported the establishment of the Arakan National Party. I was elected to the central executive committee of the Rakhine [Arakan] Nationalities Development Party [RNDP] in 2012, and I was also a member of the party’s parliamentary support committee. I was also elected as a central committee member when the Arakan League for Democracy merged with the RNDP to form the ANP in 2014. Candidates were selected for the two houses and the state legislature at the RNDP conference for the 2012 by-election, and I chose to contest for the state legislature in Sittwe Constituency 2 to serve the interests of the region.
Another party member also registered to contest this constituency, so there were two contestants—he and I. I was chosen, but then he complained about 20 days later, saying that there were irregularities. So this was put to a vote and I was annulled. There were some tensions in the party and I became an independent candidate. Then I won the election.
The NLD has won a landslide across the country. Are you worried about standing as an independent in a new Parliament where the NLD has a majority?
I announced on the day of my victory that though I ran as an independent, I would rejoin the ANP. It is difficult to fight alone when discussing important policies, so I will rejoin with like-minded people. I am not supposed to make decisions on my own in dealing with the NLD. In working and collaborating for the long-term interests of the Arakan people, it is better to give voices through an organization rather than alone. However, I have to wait and see what the ANP decides.
Do you mean that while in the Parliament you will stand as a member of the ANP, not as an independent?
What do you plan to do for the Arakan people once you are in Parliament, and how will you resolve conflicts in Arakan State?
Of the three parliaments, the state and divisional legislature has the least amount of power. We’ll figure out what we can do and what we should do with that limited power. We need to enact laws that pave the way. I will work to improve access to education and health facilities and infrastructure such as roads, water and electricity to the most possible degree within the mandate of the state legislature.
And I will also work for federalism, however, it will be difficult for a state lawmaker to fight for this. I will work for federalism outside the Parliament, as a politician.
I think the state and divisional parliaments should have bigger budgets. To resolve the problems facing the Arakan people, it is important that the state parliament is granted the power to have direct control of health and education. Again, we should get earnings from our state resources; otherwise, we won’t be able to handle those issues.
Arakan State is the source of an enormous amount of gas and oil, which travel from the Kyaukphyu deep sea port, but many have argued that most of the benefits go to China. What will you do about this issue?
Regarding natural resources, the Arakan National Conference has decided that the state should get at least half the profits while the remainder will go to the Union. Natural resources are the fundamental cause of our ongoing civil war. People have died because of this around the world. So it is also happening in Myanmar. We have to make demands over the next five years as politicians, but it is unlikely that our demands will be met. At present, we have to ask for an allocation of the national budget. We need to change the Constitution. To change the Constitution, we will need power and strength. Arakan people need to know that they are being denied the rights they deserve, and make demands as a consequence. The larger the force of the groups that are asking for those rights, the closer we will be to enjoying them.
What will you do to resolve the racial issues in Arakan State [a reference to the statelessness of about 1 million Rohingya Muslims, many of whom reside in displacement camps]?
We have the 1982 Citizenship Law, regarding this issue. Those who are in line with this law are citizens, and if not, they are not. This has been our long-held view. On the one hand, there is an ethnic group, on the other hand, there is a group whose citizenship has not been determined. I don’t see it as a racial issue, but an issue between a legal ethnic group and illegal immigrants whose citizenship has not been determined. We need to scrutinize those people in line with the 1982 Citizenship Law. If they are eligible for citizenship, they should be granted citizenship. Then we need to find out what we should do about those who are not citizens. I don’t think the Arakan State government and the state legislature have the power to handle this pressing issue. The Union Parliament has the absolute power.