Election 2020

Ex-Aide to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to Contest Election, but Not Under NLD

By Min Aung Khine 4 August 2020

SITTWE, Rakhine State—Dr. Tin Mar Aung, a former personal secretary of National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, will run for a seat in the Rakhine State parliament in this year’s general election on the ticket of the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD).

The news has attracted widespread attention, as Dr. Tin Mar Aung will contest a seat representing Taungup Township, where the NLD enjoys popular support.

“I am ethnically Rakhine, and the ALD was founded by my father. So, I will contest [a seat] for this party,” she told The Irrawaddy.

The ALD was founded by Dr. Tin Mar Aung’s father, Dr. Saw Mra Aung, ahead of the 1990 general election, and allied with the NLD after that vote.

After her father died in 2009, to fulfill his dying wish, Dr. Tin Mar Aung closely supported Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her struggle for democracy.

“I supported Daw Aung San Suu Kyi because my father said she would be able to bring about change,” Dr. Tin Mar Aung said.

She was a regular sight beside Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during her local and foreign trips before the NLD came to power. After the 2015 general election, however, she largely disappeared from view.

Dr. Tin Mar Aung said she helped the NLD out of her desire to see the country move from military dictatorship to democracy. When the NLD won the 2015 general election, she felt her duty to help Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was done, and since 2016 she has dedicated herself to working for the Rakhine people.

“As our country moved on from military dictatorship, my duty was done. I said in 2016 that I would dedicate myself to the Rakhine people. The ALD was founded by my father. As I am thinking of doing the things that my father could not finish, it would be best to contest under the banner of my own party,” she told The Irrawaddy.

After the NLD government took office in 2016, Dr. Tin Mar Aung returned to Rakhine State and participated in the government’s push to nominate Mrauk-U, the seat of Arakanese kings from the 15th century to the late 1800s, for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List. She also works at the Dr. Saw Mra Aung Foundation, a not-for-profit association that supports the social welfare and all-round development of Myanmar.

In 2017, the ALD split from the Arakan National Party and registered again as a separate party under the same name. Dr. Tin Mar Aung then rejoined the ALD.

“I’m ethnically Rakhine and am working at my father’s foundation. I am also engaged in surveys in Mrauk-U, and serve in the Rakhine Welfare Association. I know what is happening in Rakhine. But I have not been able to take an active part in [Rakhine political affairs]. So, I decided to contest in Rakhine State so that I can take an active part,” she said.

Dr. Tin Mar Aung said her political objective is to speak up in the parliament for the rights of Rakhine people in order to raise their education, health and living standards.

She said she would strive to implement her party’s policy platform, which is to ensure federal democracy, equality and self-determination.

“The most important thing is that we have federal democracy, equal rights, autonomy and our own charter in the Union. There are many stages in this process. This is my objective. My party takes this path, and I myself believe in it,” she told The Irrawaddy.

Her main rivals in Taungup Constituency 2 are Rakhine State NLD Central Executive Committee member U Min Aung, a former state municipal affairs minister who is currently a lawmaker in the Rakhine State parliament, and Daw Khin Myo Yin from the ANP.

Public interest in the election was previously low, but rebounded after local parties fielded new candidates from those who ran in the 2015 general elections, said local resident Daw Theingi Maung.

“At first, as there were frequent arrests in the area, people focused more on how to make a livelihood than politics. But as the parties have switched candidates, many are taking an interest again,” she said.

Most Rakhine people still show little interest in the coming election, however. Despite this, the confrontation between the two major Rakhine parties has intensified as the election draws near.

The ALD and the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), which was established ahead of the 2010 election, merged into a single party under the name ANP in 2013, at the urging of local Rakhine people.

The party held a conference to choose its leadership the following year, and cracks started to appear when the RNDP took a dominant role in the party leadership. Political analysts viewed the merger as mostly for show between the top leaders of the two parties.

In the 2015 general election, the ANP contested 63 seats in Rakhine and Chin states and Ayeyarwady and Yangon regions. It won 10 seats in the Upper House of the Union Parliament, 12 in the Lower House and 22 in the Rakhine State parliament, along with one ethnic affairs minister’s post.

However, disagreements grew within the party and former leaders of the ALD announced in January 2017 that they were splitting from the ANP and re-registering with the UEC for the 2020 elections, citing internal issues and the RNDP’s dominance in the ANP as the reasons for the split. The ALD fielded a candidate in the 2018 by-election in Rathedaung Township.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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