New Arakanese Party Commits to Greater Youth Representation

By Moe Myint 11 November 2016

RANGOON – Former Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) leader U Myo Kyaw told The Irrawaddy on Friday that a new Arakanese party establishment is planning to form a central executive body with one-third of its members under age 40.

Last month, former ALD members hosted a conference at Kyauktaw Township, northern Arakan State, on the formation of a new party. About 200 participants from ethnic Arakanese organizations discussed the party’s potential policies and its name; the organization has yet to determine whether to continue as the ALD or to choose a new name, said U Myo Kyaw.

“ALD has a good history in the past, thus, some people want to continue with the ALD name but some desire to choose a new one,” he explained.

Thirty-four leading committee members from Arakan State and Rangoon were selected during the meeting; a central executive committee—with prominent youth representation—will be selected at a later date.

The commitment to include younger leaders is seen as a move away from traditional Arakanese politics.

U Myo Kyaw, founder of Rangoon’s Scholar Institute, said many youth within this network have earned advanced degrees abroad and are working with international non-governmental organizations.

Due to the higher pay in those fields, he speculates that they might “hesitate” to work for a political party. “We understand the challenges and we welcome them anyway,” he said.

Ko Zaw Worn, a 37-year-old from Kyauktaw Township, is active in the new party, and believes greater youth representation will be a positive development.

“Young and old [people’s] experiences should be balanced in the party, even though they might have different perspectives. Not only old men can work in this era,” he said.

The ALD was founded by U Aye Tha Aung in 1989 in Rangoon, now who is serving as the deputy speaker of the Upper House. He contested 1990 election and won, yet the electoral outcome was ignored by the military government. Many political leaders were subsequently imprisoned, including members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party which now heads the civilian-led government.

After two decades, junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe gave the green light to hold the 2010 general election under the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, but many political parties boycotted the process, including the ALD.

Retired government official Dr. Aye Maung established the nationalist Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) in order to contest the 2010 election, winning 35 out of 44 seats it contested in the regional and Union parliaments.

In 2012, many civil society organizations and members of the Arakanese public demanded that the ALD and RNDP integrate in order to avoid vote splitting in the 2015 election. In 2014, the two parties merged to form the Arakan National Party (ANP). Yet internal divisions persisted, including complaints that the RNDP dominated the ANP.

The ANP secured 45 of 77 contested seats in 2015, effectively defeating the NLD in Arakan State. The ANP publically demanded that the NLD, as the country’s leading party, nominate an individual from the ANP to serve as chief minister of the state, but the NLD instead selected one of its own members for the role—U Nyi Pu. They then offered a regional ministerial post and deputy Upper House speaker post to U Aye Tha Aung, who was among the ALD minority within the ANP.

The move, insiders said, angered the ANP’s senior RNDP members. They responded by expelling six former ALD members from the party, alleging that they had been acting against the organization’s interests.