Election 2020

Myanmar's Ruling NLD Rejects Calls to Ditch Muslim Candidate

By Myat Pyae Phyo 28 August 2020

Mandalay — The National League for Democracy (NLD) says it is standing by its Muslim candidate, despite complaints from nearly 600 Mandalay residents and Buddhist monks who have asked the party to pick a Buddhist candidate.

The NLD picked Daw Win Mya Mya to run for the Lower House seat in Sintgaing Township, Mandalay Region. She is one of the few Muslim candidates picked by the party to run in the November general election.

A letter sent to the NLD central executive committee from residents and monks said she was inappropriate because she is Muslim, not from Sintgaing and not a university graduate.

Myanmar has been facing rising Buddhist nationalism for several years with increasing anti-Muslim rhetoric from right-wing monks claiming Myanmar’s Buddhist foundations are under assault. During the general election in 2015, some monks openly campaigned for nationalist parties while attacking NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for marrying a foreigner.

NLD vice-chairman Dr. Zaw Myint Maung rejected the complaint against the Muslim candidate.

“We made careful selections based on the party’s principles. We want the critics to understand properly that besides Buddhism, other faiths can be practiced in our country and we only select those who meet the eligibility criteria to stand for election as well as the principles of our party,” Dr. Zaw Myint Maung told reporters at the Mandalay Region’s parliament on Thursday.

The party applies two main criteria when selecting candidates: they must support party policies and must be party members. The party picked Daw Win Mya Mya based on those criteria, said Dr. Zaw Myint Maung, who is also Mandalay’s chief minister.

“I have no comment about the objection. This is politics. I have to do what I am supposed to do,” Daw Win Mya Mya told The Irrawaddy.

The 71-year-old Mandalay resident has dedicated her life to the NLD since its formation in 1988. She faced life-threatening oppression under the military regime, spending years in prison or under some form of detention.

During the Depayin massacre in 2003 – in which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s motorcade came under brutal attack by military-backed thugs – both of Daw Win Mya Mya’s arms were shattered. She was detained in Shwebo Prison for over eight months. In 2007, she was arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison for talking to the media about the so-called Saffron Revolution, the uprising of Buddhist monks against the junta.

“Other parties are manipulating the fact that the NLD is fielding a Muslim candidate. This won’t impact much on voters in urban areas with some political knowledge. It is different in rural areas where voters won’t consider much and usually respect monks. I want the candidate to be a native and a Buddhist. Otherwise, [voters] will be swayed and choose other parties because they have no other choice,” a Sintgaing resident who asked for anonymity told The Irrawaddy.

Myanmar is a largely Buddhist country and monks are highly respected on issues of morality. However, the country’s nearly 500,000 monks are constitutionally barred from casting votes.

The NLD did not pick any Muslim candidates in the 2015 election but in November it will field at least two Muslim candidates. The other is Ko Sithu Maung, a former political prisoner, who will run for the Yangon regional parliament in Pabedan Township.

The NLD will field 1,134 candidates in November.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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