‘Dignity’ at Stake, Speaker Tells Parliament in Rebuke of MP’s Facebook Lament

By Nyein Nyein 11 May 2016

Burma’s Lower House Speaker Win Myint warned parliamentarians on Wednesday not to post comments on social media that “would undermine the dignity and integrity of Parliament,” after a lawmaker took to Facebook to express disappointment that a proposal she had put forward was rejected.

Win Myint also took the lawmaker, Khin Saw Wai of the Arakan National Party’s (ANP), to task for talking to the media about her proposal before it had been formally submitted, a violation of parliamentary protocol.

“[Talking to the media] could lead to a misunderstanding of what’s going on in the Parliament,” he told the Lower House on Wednesday.

To ANP lawmakers, the speaker’s reprimand missed the point: Namely, the plight of a growing number of Arakanese civilians displaced by fighting between the Burma Army and the Arakan Army over the last several weeks.

On Monday in the Lower House, Win Myint shot down Khin Saw Wai’s proposal to provide government aid to the Arakanese displaced. In addition to his displeasure over the ANP lawmaker discussing it with the press before he had approved it, Win Myint in rejecting the proposal pointed to what he said was an inappropriate rider attached to the humanitarian aid request that called for inclusion of all ethnic armed organizations, “regardless of size,” in peace talks.

“The motion was meant to bring the Arakan Army into peace talks with the government under the guise of providing aid to the internally displaced people,” he said.

A similar motion was also proposed in the Upper House last week, but military lawmakers spoke in opposition to it and Win Myint’s counterpart in the upper chamber decided to merely put the proposal on record.

Khin Saw Wai, who represents Rathedaung, one of the townships affected by the fighting, said her Facebook post was intended to inform her constituents that she had attempted to raise the issue of Arakan State’s recently displaced in the Naypyidaw legislature.

“The speaker exercised his power as he thinks it is a repeat motion of the Upper House, despite me telling him that I could cut the part about AA [Arakan Army] and urging for their inclusion in the peace process,” she told The Irrawaddy, adding that despite her concession—still ultimately denied by Win Myint—she stood by the relevance of the rider.

“When we talk about people displaced by fighting, we must explain about the fighting. We should not ignore these facts.”

In a third justification for his rejection, the speaker, sounding strikingly similar to his ruling predecessors in the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), cited the proposal’s failure to accord with the “three main national causes” of the government. Those causes—non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of sovereignty—were a regular refrain under the former USDP government and military junta that preceded it.

Outside Parliament, meanwhile, public protests calling for a cessation of the fighting have gathered steam throughout Arakan State in recent weeks.

Pe Than, an Arakanese lawmaker, said Khin Saw Wai’s emergency proposal highlighted the need to the stop the fighting between the Arakan Army and the Burma Army, which has caused approximately 2,000 people to flee their homes.

“We as lawmakers have a responsibility to reflect our constituents’ voices,” he said. “The speaker’s explanation for rejecting the proposal is a poor excuse for inaction.”

“Peacebuilding and national reconciliation have been talked about a lot recently, so it’s not surprising that the Arakan Army was mentioned in the proposal,” the Arakanese lawmaker said. “The government should have initiated [peace talks with the Arakan Army].”

Despite the rejection by Win Myint, the Arakan State legislature began debating a proposal of its own Tuesday and is expected to formulate its response to the crisis sometime this week.