RANGOON – National League for Democracy (NLD) chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi urged Arakan National Party (ANP) lawmakers to collaborate with her NLD-led cabinet in Arakan State on Thursday, while also reportedly taking the opportunity to hold a discussion on the economic sector and relations with the region’s Rohingya minority.
Lower House ANP MP Pe Than told The Irrawaddy that NLD spokesman Win Htein invited 22 ANP lawmakers to Naypyidaw for an initial meeting with Suu Kyi at the capital’s municipal guest house on Thursday evening.
The ANP has selected three representatives, including Pe Than, to engage in a further dialogue with Suu Kyi. One of the most divisive issues between the two parties has been the appointment of the Arakan State Chief Minister. The ANP wants a party member in the role, while the NLD—as the national winner of the election—can select one of their own people for each state minister post, according to the country’s 2008 Constitution.
Yet Suu Kyi has said that the NLD pick for the Arakan State Chief Minister remains NLD central executive committee member, Nyi Pu. Pe Than said the appointment will be discussed further in the talks.
In January, the ANP stated that unless they were granted the chief minister position in their state, they would work in opposition to the NLD. Suu Kyi reportedly told the Arakanese legislators that in an NLD-led government they would be offered some positions, as would some outside “technocrats.”
The ANP has demanded that the NLD meet with the Arakanese party’s authorities to discuss the issue further, including Dr. Aye Maung, Aye Tha Aung and Tun Aung Kyaw. The goal is to hold a political dialogue, but according to ANP MP Ba Shein, such an undertaking is likely to fail; Aye Tha Aung, known to be close with Suu Kyi, was unexpectedly dismissed from the delegation and replaced by Tha Tun Hla, another party insider.
“Suu Kyi is considering building trust between ANP and NLD,” said ANP Lower House MP Khin Saw Wai. “[The meeting] went well enough,” she added, pointing out that both sides engaged in a “very transparent debate and shared feelings from their own hearts.”
Khin Saw Wai told The Irrawaddy that Suu Kyi had expressed concern that protests in Arakan State’s capital of Sittwe on Wednesday—against an NLD-appointed chief minister—could interfere with the process of state building and democratization. More protests are planned in Maungdaw Township on Sunday.
Tensions run high for many reasons in Arakan State, which has witnessed much conflict in recent years, particularly between the Buddhist Arakanese majority and the Muslim Rohingya minority, who are often dismissed as ‘Bengali’ by both locals and the government. The Rohingya are denied citizenship by both the Burmese government and the Arakanese state authorities, which has attracted the attention and concern of the international community.
The ANP and NLD reportedly talked about the region’s history of ethno-religious conflict during the meeting. While additional details are not known at this time, Suu Kyi told the ANP’s MPs that they would search for a solution together and, in full collaboration, march toward a better situation for the country, according to another ANP representative, Ba Shein.
They also discussed the controversial Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone, a Chinese investment project located in Kyaukphyu Township, which has been criticized for its potential to displace locals and cause damage to the surrounding environment.
Khin Saw Wai said that Suu Kyi has promised to meet with ANP authorities again within a matter of weeks. The NLD will reportedly put forward some candidates for the talks, but a location has not yet been decided.
The Irrawaddy contacted NLD spokesmen Win Htein and Zaw Myint Maung by phone on Friday morning, but they could not be reached for comment.