The Arakan National Party (ANP) won 22 seats in the Union Parliament in Burma’s recent general election, clearly establishing it as the country’s strongest ethnic political party. The ANP also won 23 of 47 state parliament seats on Nov. 8, just short of a majority in the Arakan State legislature. The Irrawaddy’s Htet Naing Zaw recently sat down with ANP central committee member Aye Thar Aung to discuss the party’s political objectives, his view on the victorious National League for Democracy (NLD) and the issues facing Arakan State.
Arakan parties won the most seats in Arakan State in the 1990 and 2015 elections. Why do you think people have supported the party again and again?
In the 1990 election, I was the joint general-secretary of the Arakan League for Democracy. But I did not run for election. I only ran for election in 2015. People have chosen us mainly because we have constantly engaged in politics. We established the party after the 1988 pro-democracy uprising and have constantly called for the fall of dictatorship and the flourishing of democracy and for ensuring equitable political rights for ethnicities, autonomy for states and the establishment of a federal Union. We’ve constantly said that our country will achieve peace and development only when a federal Union is established. We have presented our party’s policies to people and people voted for us because they accept our policies.
Some people are concerned that friction which emerged between some Arakan political leaders after the November election will adversely affect Arakan State. What is your view on this?
Yes, for a region to see development, there must be unity between political parties and political forces of that region. People will feel frustrated to see friction between leaders of some political parties in Arakan State. But then, even if there are disagreements in terms of politics, if they can stand collaboratively, they will be able to serve the state and the Arakan people.
Is there a possibility that the ANP might be able to form Arakan State government? Which parties will you cooperate with?
When we contested the 2015 election, our major objective was to form the Arakan State government. We tried to win over half of the seats in the state parliament for a decisive victory. But we only won 23 seats. Regardless, we have won the largest number of seats in the state parliament. Given that, we are in a position to form state government. However, according to the 2008 Constitution, the state chief minister will be appointed by the president. As the next president will be from the National League for Democracy (NLD), it is up to them.
What changes will your party make if it can form government, as the party which has won the largest number of seats?
We have a lot of work to do. Arakan State is one of the poorest states and is lagging behind in the economic, health, education and transportation sectors. Arakan State does not have sufficient electricity. At present, only three or four townships have access to electricity. Because there is no electricity supply, there are no factories and workshops. We should try for the swift implementation of the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone.
We also need to work for agricultural development. Once, fish and prawns were in abundant supply in Arakan State. But as the military government gave reckless permission to foreign fish trawlers, fish stocks have become scarce now. We need to replenish. We also want to tighten border security in the northern border area if we are assigned to the Arakan State government.
What measures will you take to ensure peaceful co-existence between people of different races and faiths in Arakan State?
Arakan State borders… East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, which is experiencing a population explosion. It is just a little bit bigger than Shan State but has a population of 120 million people. So, [people] have entered Arakan State through various means in successive periods. In the past, they came for greener pastures, but as the population has reached around one million now, they try to occupy our land. And Arakan people are worried. This needs to be settled urgently as an issue of national security. The government needs to scrutinize them under Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law. If citizenship is granted to eligible persons, the problem can be solved partially. The government needs to find solutions in coordination with UN agencies on how to handle illegal immigrants.
What is the ANP’s attitude toward the National League for Democracy (NLD)?
The NLD won a landslide victory. For more than five decades our country was under dictatorship and lagged behind in politics, the economy, education, health, transportation and so on. So, the country needs to be changed. We need to strive for a democratic transition, a good government and a fair federal Union, because the current system is not fair. The NLD has strived for the promotion of democracy as well as engaging in ethnic affairs… Now the NLD has won in a landslide, I think it will put forward laws for the people including charter reform. I think it will also form a good government and fight against rampant corruption and bribery in the country. So, I welcome the NLD’s landslide victory.
Do you think the NLD will be able to bring about reconciliation with all ethnicities, including in Arakan State? What steps do you want the NLD to take first in this process?
National unity in our country was shattered by conflict between the military and political forces, successive governments and ethnic armed groups and ethnic political parties in successive periods… So, the national reconciliation process is a must. As the NLD has held talks with the military chief and President U Thein Sein to build trust, it also needs to build trust and hold talks on cooperation with ethnic political parties and ethnic armed groups.
The fact that the NLD has won the election will not solve all the problems. At present, only eight ethnic armed groups have signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement, while 13 other groups have yet to sign it. How will the NLD government handle it? Again, this also requires the cooperation of the military chief as well as the cooperation of ethnic parties and ethnic armed groups. So, the NLD needs to enter a dialogue with ethnic parties about national reconciliation. At present, the NLD has offered to talk with the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA). But we still don’t know the exact date of the meeting.