Aye Maung is the chairman of the Arakan National Party (ANP), the largest political party in Arakan State of Myanmar after the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).
The ANP is contesting 29 seats in the Arakan State legislature and 34 seats in Union Parliament. In an interview with Myanmar Now, Aye Maung said that his party expects to sweep the state, winning over 90 percent of all seats it is contesting. The victory, he claims, will enable the party to control the state legislature and strengthen the influence of the Buddhist Arakanese in the region, home to more than a million stateless Rohingya Muslims.
Aye Maung himself is contesting a state parliamentary seat for Munaung Island and says he is aiming to be appointed the state’s chief minister.
How is your campaign going?
As you know, this island is located at the center of the Arakan State and has been one of the least developed towns in this region. The roads are bad and we don’t have telephone service here. But the southern part of this island is more undeveloped than the northern part where we have fishing industry. We have a greater public support in the northern part than in the south where there is a sense of insecurity. The sense of fear means the greater influence of the USDP, I would say.
Some NLD candidates said in their campaign speeches that if the Arakanese people vote for your party, there will be a split of votes that can result in the USDP winning against NLD and remaining a ruling party in the parliament. How do you respond to that?
We are fighting against the USDP and regard the NLD as our ally. But the NLD officials at the lower level do not view us as their ally. They are saying that the votes of the Arakanese will be wasted if they vote for us. So this gives a chance to the USDP to exploit the situation. But I am confident that I am getting over 60 percent of the local public in my constituency and that the ANP will win over 90 percent of all the legislative seats in Arakan State.
We have heard about a resurgence of public support for the NLD in the southern Arakan State after Suu Kyi visited there last month. Is that correct?
That may not be true. The NLD officials at the lower level may boast to their party leaders in such a way, thinking that the NLD will repeat their victory in these towns like in the 1990 general elections. But since the violence with “Bengalis” in 2012, the Arakanese have rebuilt their unity while the ANP has penetrated down to the grassroots level. (Editor’s note: “Bengali” is the word used by the government and many in Arakan State to refer to the region’s Rohingya population.)
Are you saying that the NLD is not as strong in the southern parts of Arakan State as its officials claim?
The NLD was strong before the 2012 riots but not after that. Since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said “the majority should not bully a minority” after the incident in Taungup, all the NLD strongholds in the southern Arakan collapsed. (Editor’s note: Aye Maung is referring to an infamous 2012 incident in which 10 Muslims were dragged from a bus and murdered while passing through Taungup, in an apparent reprisal attack for the rape of a young Arakanese woman by three Muslim men earlier that year.) After contemplation about the history of their ancestors and the future of their entire race, the Arakanese realized that they need to strengthen themselves again.
Did you make any attempt to form a political alliance with the NLD?
I have personally advised Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to build alliances. Her visits to the ethnic areas should be for the sake of friendship with the ethnic groups. I accept her as a leader of the public. I also adore her. But the visits to the ethnic areas should not be for canvassing purposes. They should be used for the purpose of building friendship with the ethnics. If that’s the case, then the game (the elections) will be a very good one. But since her people are attacking us in a partisan way, we have to reciprocate.
How come your relation with the NLD has faltered despite your close relations with the NLD leadership?
We have different policy objectives. We are trying to dominate the state legislature, for which we also need to be present in the Lower and Upper Houses. We will have the political bargaining power in the bicameral parliament only if our MPs are represented there. But the NLD’s policy is “we will let you take state legislative seats but we will get all the lower and upper house seats of Arakan State.” That is the wrong strategy of the NLD party.
My opinion is the transition must come together with a guarantee for the rights of ethnic groups. The Union government must be a coalition government, not NLD-dominated like the current one is dominated by the USDP. The NLD would have a better chance of forming a government if it gets 20 percent of support from the ethnic parties. It cannot get its own president without the support of ethnic parties in this political context.
There are accusations that your party has secretly decided to work together with the USDP, and that you’ve been accusing NLD of being pro-Muslim at your campaign events.
That’s not true. The first is not true and the second is also not true. We are on the defensive here. How many were there in Arakan in the past? It is said that around 7 million were killed during the monarchial days. Then the British colonized us. The Arakanese spread out and reached Bangladesh and India. When the Arakanese had no jobs or economic opportunities and became impoverished, the Arakanese people were spread all over the world. In Arakan State now there isn’t even 1 million left. The strength of the people who have entered illegally is now almost 1 million. That’s the scariest difference. It’s been 68 years since we gained independence. The Arakanese people don’t have the authority to manage Arakan State. That’s why we are here—to control the Arakan State parliament and the Arakan State government during this transition.
Imagine—you now have a union government that is democratic and completely understands human rights. The international community puts pressure. If the Union government and president are from the NLD, there won’t be any chance to defend (ourselves). They will start measuring (everything) using a human rights yardstick, as per their party policy. That’s why we Arakanese don’t have any choices. We need a government that sees things the same way. Otherwise, we will disappear.
What are your expectations for the elections in Arakan State? Do you expect that most of the seats will be won by Arakanese people?
Yes, the results would be very good. Have a look—Gwa, Thandwe, Taungup, Marn Aung. It’s all good. We now know that USDP is trying to cheat with advance votes everywhere. (If we do well) then those who are opposing us will change. The NLD…would have to agree to an alliance with us behind the scenes. You have to divide power and responsibilities…the main thing is we won’t endorse and will criticize any party, including ethnic armed groups, that oppose our nationalist welfare.
We want to be a state within an eternal union. We can’t let it disintegrate in our time. Future steps should be done in consultation with every member of the union.
This article originally appeared in Myanmar Now.