Election 2020

‘We Are Weary of War’: Myanmar Religious Leaders Appeal for Unity Ahead of Vote

By Nan Lwin 14 July 2020

YANGON—A group of Myanmar religious leaders have appealed to all civilians, ethnic armed groups, political parties and other religious figures to jointly work for peace, harmony, unity and consolidation of democracy ahead of the country’s general election and a major peace conference this year.

On Nov. 8, Myanmar will hold its third general election in nearly six decades. Moreover, the Fourth Session of the 21st-Century Panglong Peace Conference is scheduled to be held in August to discuss the implementation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, and further peace talks and discussions on the basic principles for forming a federal Union are planned after the election.

A statement released on Monday was signed by leaders of various faiths including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism, as well as interfaith groups and religious networks working for peace.

Amid the conflict raging between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army in western Rakhine and Chin states, the leaders said, “We are weary of war, worn down by the enmities.”

They said, “Why does Myanmar’s conflict never end? Where does the responsibility lie?” It said that blame could be assigned to the Myanmar military and its belligerence in refusing to call a full ceasefire to allow the nation to cope with the pandemic. One could also deplore the limited authority of the civilian government, and the lack of due process in the judicial system, they added.

Moreover, blame also lies with ethnic leaders and crony businessmen who benefit from the trade in jade and drugs, as well as religious leaders who are too timid to protest injustice, the statement said.

The religious leaders said, “In anticipation of important national elections and the 21st-Century Panglong Conference, we appeal directly to all leaders of Myanmar and to our fellow religious leaders to listen with respect to one another and determine to seek the good for all.”

The religious leaders said Myanmar people “deserve peace, not unending war,” and urged the people to “seize the opportunity.”

“Let a new Myanmar of hope, peace and prosperity dawn as we march towards the goal of democracy through the elections,” the religious leaders urged.

They also urged people not to be afraid of difference when it comes to building the nation, and to learn to negotiate, compromise and engage in dialogue, saying, “Go deeper in your negotiations,” and “Work to convince them that peace is in their best interest too.”

“When we elect a civilian government, are we not choosing who has authority in our nation? Is not democracy our goal in the elections?” the leaders said.

One of the signatories of the statement, U Aye Lwin, Chief Convener of the Islamic Center for Myanmar, told The Irrawaddy “A fair and free election is important for democracy. We also want to send a message to hold free and fair elections and also not to use religion as a tool [to win votes].”

“We recognize the efforts which are being made for the peace process, but they still need to work harder. In my opinion, there is still a need to put more effort into trust building between the two sides,” U Aye Lwin said.

In the statement, the religious leaders said Myanmar is caught in a threefold crisis: coronavirus, environmental threats and polarized views on ethnic differences.

They said coronavirus offers a chance to take new paths. Moreover, environmental threats put all at risk, as Myanmar is one of the five countries expected to be most affected by climate change this century. Furthermore, despite the beauty of diversity, Myanmar people cling to the folly of assuming a ranking in ethnic differences, they said.

The leaders asked Myanmar people, “What can we do differently instead of returning to senseless division? What future do we want for our young?”

The leaders urged an end to internal conflict that allowed neighboring countries to take away the country’s wealth and resulted in tragedy.

“When we fight one another, we become distracted, our land is ravished, our young are destroyed by addictive stimulant drugs, and thousands of our young women and men leave their country only to lose their dignity and their lives,” the leaders said.

The statement also mentioned the recent landslide in Hpakant, Kachin State, which took at least 174 lives.

The leaders said that “…hundreds of young jade miners were buried in watery graves, while foreigners run away with our wealth.”

“When we fight we put our young men at enmity with their brothers. Their lives and limbs are broken, mothers weep and young wives are made widows,” they said in the statement.

“It is time to stop,” they urged.

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