Arakan State Parliament Debates Proposal Against Kofi Annan-led Commission

By Lawi Weng 14 September 2016

The Arakan State parliament is debating on Wednesday and Thursday this week a proposal from the Arakan National Party (ANP) to withhold recognition from the new Arakan State Advisory Commission chaired by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

Lawmakers from the ANP told The Irrawaddy that the proposal was likely to succeed, because the ANP are the largest party in the Arakan State parliament and can rely on the military representatives and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to gain a majority vote.

The Arakan State Advisory Commission was appointed by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi last month, and consists of nine members: three international, including Kofi Annan, and six from Burma, including two Buddhist Arakanese, two Muslims, and two government representatives. It is mandated to provide a report within a year, with recommendations on resolving the Buddhist-Muslim conflict, and on meeting humanitarian and development needs.

The legal and practical implications of a vote in the state parliament to withhold recognition are unclear. Under the nominally devolved structures outlined in the 2008 Constitution, powers granted to regional governments and parliaments are limited or vaguely defined.

However, ANP members claim that such a resolution would make it difficult for the advisory commission to gain the cooperation of actors on the ground in Arakan State, and cause the commission’s recommendations to be rejected by local stakeholders, frustrating implementation.

The ANP represents the interests of the Arakanese Buddhist majority in the state, and takes a hard line against the granting of citizenship rights to the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Earlier this month, an urgent proposal put forward by the ANP in the Lower House of the Union Parliament, calling for international members of the new advisory commission to be replaced with Burmese experts—arguing that the involvement of international figures amounted to an infringement of Burma’s sovereignty—was defeated by votes from the ruling National League for Democracy, although it won the support of military and USDP members.

The ANP’s U Kyaw Zwa Oo, who represents the state capital Sittwe, submitted the proposal to the Arakan State parliament on Monday. The parliament approved it for debate the same week.

Lawmakers from the ANP said the central government had failed to consult with locals of Arakan State before forming the advisory commission.

“We will not recognize this commission,” said U Kyaw Lwin of the ANP.

U Pe Than, an ANP lawmaker in the Lower House, claimed to The Irrawaddy that, although the state government remains “under the control of the Union government,” the state parliament is “independent” of the Union parliament, “according to the constitution”—so its decisions can determine how projects are implemented on the ground.

The Union parliament could not “pressure” the state parliament to recognize, or work with, the Kofi Annan-led advisory commission, he said.

“The state parliament represents locals, not the government. The government has to implement decisions reached by the state parliament. It will have problems in the future if it does not do so,” he claimed.

U Pe Than said the state parliament had the power to refuse cooperation with the advisory commission, and recognition of its recommendations. “The commission will have problems working on the ground if there is no cooperation with the state parliament,” he said.

The commission would be “powerless” in such a situation, he went on, and receive the opposition of locals, who would then pressure the state government to sideline it.

Several hundred local residents emerged to protest the arrival of Kofi Annan and his fellow commission members in Sittwe last week, at the instigation of the ANP.

Buddhist-Muslim conflict broke out in Arakan State in 2012, recurring in 2013 and displacing up to 140,000 people, overwhelmingly Muslim Rohingya, most of whom remain confined to squalid camps with limited access to public services. This has prompted sustained criticism from foreign governments, the United Nations and the international human rights community.