RANGOON – Around 100 participants from throughout Arakan State voted to re-establish the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) during a weekend conference in Taungup Township, former ALD member U Myo Kyaw told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
Meeting attendees selected Arakan State’s Kyauktaw Township as party’s head quarters and agreed to open branches in Rangoon as well in Taungup.
U Myo Kyaw said that Kyauktaw is perceived as the ALD’s stronghold, and is also home to an auspicious Buddha image dating back to the Arakanese kingdom of Mrauk-U.
In order to become an official party, U Myo Kyaw said the registration process with the Union Election Commission would begin in February. However, it is unclear whether current deputy speaker of the Upper House U Aye Thar Aung or lawmaker Ma Htoot May—both former ALD members—would join the party. They currently belong to the Arakan National Party (ANP), which was formed in 2014 by merging the ALD and the Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP) to avoid vote splitting in the 2015 election.
On the first day of the Taungup conference, around 40 locals staged a protest and chanted that the meeting attendees were “unwanted separatists,” for attempting to compete against the ANP. Demonstrators also called the ALD members “unwelcome Bamar followers,” in a reference to the ALD’s past working relationship with the Burman-majority National League for Democracy (NLD), which now heads the government.
In response to the accusations from the demonstrators, meeting attendee Ko Zaw Win insisted that the ALD supporters were “not secessionists.”
A challenge which awaits is how the split will affect civil society support, which is seen as crucial to success in the Arakanese political arena.
Coordinator of the farmers’ rights group Kyaukphyu Rural Development Association U Tun Kyi told The Irrawaddy that he is not opposed to the presence of multiple Arakanese parties and believes people will support different political entities, depending on their views and goals.
“We will cooperate with the party which prioritizes public interests,” he said.
One criticism facing the ALD is the party’s close ties to Rangoon, the country’s commercial capital, which lies outside of Arakan State.
“No matter whether we are working from Rangoon or Rakhine [Arakan State], we have worked similarly in the past,” said former ALD member U Myo Kyaw, who added that party leaders in Rangoon could easily contact representatives in Arakan State chapters, and that the proximity to larger government departments could be an advantage. U Myo Kyaw also pointed out how much of Burma’s ethnic Arakanese population is believed to be spread across the country, rather than concentrated in Arakan State.
The ALD first contested Burma’s 1990 election and won 11 parliamentary seats. However, the military government did not transfer power to the elected parties, and instead arrested members of groups like the ALD and NLD.
Twenty-five years later, in the 2015 election, the ANP secured 45 out of 77 seats which it contested,effectively defeating its biggest nation wide competitor, the NLD, in Arakan State.
The ANP publically demanded that the NLD, as the country’s leading party, nominate an ANP figure to serve as chief minister of Arakan state, but the NLD instead selected U Nyi Pu, one of its own members, for the role.
Since the ANP’s formation, tension between former ALD and RNDP members has been visible, coming to a head over the position of chief minister of the Arakan State. Six former ALD members were expelled from the ANP in early 2016 after opposing the party’s demand that one of its own members be appointed to the position.