Ruling Party MP Cuts Ties to Contest November Poll as an Independent

By Moe Myint 11 August 2015

RANGOON — Shwe Maung, a ruling party MP representing the township of Buthidaung in northern Arakan State, will contest the upcoming general election as an independent candidate, cutting ties with the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, the Lower House lawmaker gave little explanation regarding his decision to run independently, but vowed to continue to work for the development of Arakan State.

“I want to work independently, [according to] my own politics, that is the reason why I will resign from the USDP. Human rights [protection] is not as advanced as we expected in Arakan State, so I will continue to work in politics,” Shwe Maung said.

As a Muslim Rohingya MP, Shwe Maung has been a rare advocate in Parliament for the beleaguered minority—a position that has attracted scrutiny including from within his own party. In February 2014, Shwe Maung   said he was summoned for questioning by the Home Affairs Ministry on allegations of defaming police for comments he made on conflict in strife-torn Arakan State.

In Burma’s last general election in 2010, the USDP coopted several Muslim candidates to run for the party in Muslim-majority areas of Arakan State, including Buthidaung Township.

A USDP spokesperson in Arakan State who wished to remain anonymous told The Irrawaddy on Monday that Shwe Maung had resigned in early August and the party had touted several possible substitute candidates for the constituency.

As of August 9, the USDP had submitted the names of over 1,000 candidates to the country’s Union Election Commission. It will contest all 64 constituencies in Arakan State across both houses of the Union Parliament and the state legislature, including one seat for an ethnic affairs representative, according to the USDP spokesperson.

Stiff competition is expected in the state from the Arakan National Party (ANP) which said in July it would compete for 34 elected seats in the regional Arakan State legislature, as well as 17 seats in the Union Parliament’s Lower House and 12 seats in the Upper House.

However, according to ANP patron Aye Thar Aung on Monday, the party will only field one of two candidates to represent the Sittwe constituency in the regional legislature, following a dispute over a candidates’ nomination last week.

Proposed candidates put forward by the ANP for Kyaukphyu also attracted local opposition, with criticism concerning the party’s centralized selection process.

Aye Thar Aung said the party would be ready to submit a complete list of candidates to the Union Election Commission before the August 14 deadline.

In the 2010 poll, the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), which merged with another Arakanese party to form the ANP last year, won 35 of 44 seats it contested.

The vast majority of Rohingya in Arakan State have been effectively stripped of suffrage after the government invalidated temporary identity cards, also known as “white cards,” earlier this year.

Rohingya are believed to constitute the largest bloc of white card holders, who had been allowed to vote in 2010 and in a 2012 by-election.

It has been widely reported that former white card holders have been excluded from voter lists ahead of this year’s general election.