Guest Column

Rakhine Politics: A Great Success or another Great Rift Ahead?

By Aung Myo Oo 17 March 2017

I remember the days when many Rakhine people from around the state insulted Munaung residents [who are also ethnic Rakhine] in regards to Dr. Aye Maung’s 2015 electoral loss. The former upset the latter so much so that some people thought it was the day of a “great rift” for the Rakhine people. Many Rakhine people portrayed the Munaung as traitors against the “national cause”—whatever that national cause is. I am worried that a great rift will soon befall the Rakhine people again.

On April 1, 2017, Myanmar is going to witness a by-election. This election will not be too exciting for the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party or the main opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The number of vacant seats is so small that the power dynamic will not shift for the two main parties. However, the Arakan National Party (ANP) and the head of that party, Dr. Aye Maung, think otherwise.

Dr. Aye Maung wants to regain power and will begin by testing the waters in Rakhine State’s Ann Township, with a bid for a seat in the Lower House. Many Rakhine have expressed enthusiasm to reinstall the champion of their “national cause.” But after keeping a low profile after his 2015 electoral loss, will he ever see great political success?

His election bid at this point in time is a reckless venture. First and foremost, his conventional method of utilizing nationalism for electoral gain will not guarantee success in this election.

He is testing uncharted territory. According to local sources, Ann Township exhibits an interesting mix of ethnic and party loyalties. About 40 percent of its population is Chin. Apparently, the Chin population does not subscribe to the Rakhine nationalism that the Arakan National Party uses as its campaign platform. It is not hard to believe that Chin votes will go to either the NLD or USDP.

Another substantial portion of the populace constitutes military men. This is not surprising given the fact that Ann is the center of the Western Command. For such a small town, heavy military presence means that a large chunk of the population will constitute soldiers and their families.

There are mixed reactions in the Arakanese community. While a great number of Rakhine people think that Dr. Aye Maung can bring about the changes they want to see once he is reinstalled—which I find very unlikely, —a sizable number of Rakhine also think that he is a rabble rouser, due to his rhetoric during the 2015 campaign.

He campaigned on the promise that he would seize the Rakhine State Parliament without ever firing a gun. He even challenged the NLD, stating that it would not gain a majority of seats without “our” support—“our” has been interpreted by some political commentators as a consolidation of USDP and other pro-USDP allies, including the ANP.

However, a huge public outcry erupted when he lost the election in Munaung. Some Rakhine people called the Munaung people “San-Ra-Phway” (traitors) to the national cause, among other insults.

In return, many Munaung natives lashed back, while also exhibiting frustration, confusion and despair. There was an overwhelming exchange of crude words from both sides on social media regarding Dr. Aye Maung’s election loss. It was a dark and ugly period of ethnic disunity for the Rakhine people.

Should he lose the by-election, supporters will not hesitate to insult and blame Ann Township residents for their lack of support for the national cause. Another great rift will ensue.

Aung Myo Oo is a native of Sittwe and an active commentator on social media about political activities in Rakhine State. He received a Master of Human Rights and Democratization from the University of Sydney.