RANGOON — A member of Parliament for Burma’s ruling Union and Solidarity Party (USDP) has warned that simmering tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in Arakan State could lead to another outbreak of communal violence.
“If the government doesn’t take any action, I fear for further violence in the very near future,” Shwe Maung, the USDP Lower House lawmaker for Buthidaung Township, said. “I’m not saying this emotionally. After proper analysis I am telling you that we need to control it, not let it happen.”
At the same time, however, the Muslim lawmaker warned that “ ethnic hatred will become more and more” if the media focuses too much attention on crimes committed in the strife-torn state.
“We can see a lack of the rule of law. Action taken by the local government is very unfair.”
Shwe Maung joined the USDP a month ahead of the November 2010 parliamentary elections, and has since been a vocal supporter of an amendment to Burma’s 1982 citizenship law, which bars the Muslim Rohingya population mostly living in his state from being recognized as Burmese citizens.
“In my personal view, it must be amended,” he said of the controversial law, which was introduced under former dictator Ne Win.
Several clashes between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Arakanese Buddhists left 115,000 displaced and more than 100 dead last year, according to United Nations estimates. Some 13,000 Rohingya fled the country on boats in 2012, and around 500 people are believed to have died at sea as a result.
The lawmaker, also known as Abdul Razak, said he was concerned that the government’s failure to bring security to his state could lessen his party’s chances of being re-elected to power.
“It will reflect especially in my constituency,” he said. “We need to explain to the people that [the failure] is not party policy, this is the responsibility of the government.”
“Of course, the government is from the USDP, but they are working separately,” he said in his Rangoon office.
“It will be difficult to stay in power” if the ethnic tensions in his state and in Kachin State aren’t solved before the 2015 elections, the lawmaker said.
“But even other parties are not bringing any solutions. Especially the NLD has no solution,” he added, referring to Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
Shwe Maung positioned himself as a supporter of Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann, calling the former armed forces joint chief of staff “intelligent, calm and professional,” amid reports that he would be taking over the ruling party’s chairmanship, a position currently occupied by President Thein Sein.
“Although Thein Sein is the chairman, according to the Constitution he cannot fulfill the duties of the party,” said Shwe Maung, explaining why the president is stepping down as USDP chairman.
Shwe Mann, who is currently the deputy chairman of the USDP, is ideally suited to assume the chairmanship, and stands a good chance of becoming Burma’s next president, believes Shwe Maung.
“I believe he could be president in 2015, because when I look at him in Parliament, I see him accepted by all the parties,” he said.
The lawmaker added that Shwe Mann had a better chance of becoming president that NLD leader Suu Kyi.
“It doesn’t mean that she could not be president—she is highly qualified,” he said. “But becoming a president not only depends on qualifications, it also depends on the support of MPs.”