(Photo - Myanmar State Counsellor Office)

Written by Phadu Tun Aung/ DMG

January 27, 2019  

The relationship between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s new government and Rakhine people since the 2015 election is getting very tense. In other words, the relationship between Rakhine people and the NLD party is unravelling.

The Arakan National Party (ANP) won most seats in Rakhine State in the 2015 election but the ANP did not get a chance to establish a state cabinet by grabbing power of the state. The National League for Democracy (NLD), won a large number of votes throughout the country, and appointed U Nyi Pu chief minister to run the Rakhine State government.

Meanwhile, the ANP released a statement in which it said that it would stand as the opposing party if it was not allowed to lead the regional government. Moreover, Rakhine people justifiably demonstrated in order to allow the ANP to operate the government in Rakhine State.

But the NLD kept its control of the regional government. On the day when the Rakhine State parliament announced U Nyi Pu was appointed to the chief minister’s post, members of parliament from the ANP protested. The ANP keeps standing as the opposition party.

Meanwhile, proposals submitted by MPs from the ANP in the Pyithu and Amyotha Hluttaws dominated by NLD’s MPs were not successful. They could not get a chance to discuss matters and ANP were defeated in casting votes in parliament. That’s why the relationship between the NLD government and Rakhine people is slowly and steadily disintegrating.

The fighting between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army (AA) in Rakhine State has been escalating since early December, 2018. Meanwhile, the Tatmadaw declared a unilateral four-month ceasefire at five command zones to talk with ethnic armed groups, but not did not include the Western Command that is in Rakhine State where clashes between the Tatmadaw and AA are intensifying.

The ethnic armed group and people in Rakhine State wished to include the Western Command as part of the ceasefire declaration. But their wishes did not ring true and hostilities in the region have intensified on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, the AA carried out serial attacks on four police outposts in Buthidaung Township. The AA said that they attacked these outposts because the Tatmadaw use a large number of troops to assault locals, in addition border guard police intimidate and persecute local civilians.

The attack of the Arakan Army (AA) lead to police causalities and the loss of copious amounts of munitions. That’s why the government immediately instructed to quash the ethnic armed group in Rakhine State.

After the serial attacks of the AA on police outposts, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint , Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing  and top seniors held a meeting on January 7. Then, the Tatmadaw said in its press conference on January 18 that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi instructed the Tatmadaw to effectively and unconditionally crush the Arakan Army.

“In the coordination meeting, the State Counsellor ordered the Tatmadaw to crackdown the AA insurgents,” said Major General Tun Tun Nyi from the Tatmadaw True News Information Team.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) established by Bengalis in Maungdaw Region attacked police outposts in 2016 and 2017. So, the Tatmadaw conducted operations, hundreds of thousands of Bengalis fled into Bangladesh. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in the top leaders’ meeting that the AA should face the same treatment as Bengali insurgents.  Myanmar could come under fire from western countries and human rights groups for singling out one specific insurgency group because they’re illegal immigrants, the Tatmadaw said in the press conference. So, the government and the Tatmadaw now sees any group or organization that’s an “unstable social element” as a clear and present danger to national security.

This statement was slammed by Rakhine people, and some political observers who adamantly oppose this line of thinking. The strained relationship between the NLD government and Rakhine people is now getting much more precarious.

“If the alleged initiatives that the State Consular proposed were actually executed, the military said, she would become the first Noble Peace Award recipient who is adopting a policy of absolute authoritarianism. She might warrant an entry in the Guinness book of   World records.  The recent situation shows she’s become a dictator,” the AA’s spokesperson Khaing Thukha said.

On the other hand, the Tatmadaw has a desire to show the international community that it is attacking the AA because of the directives issued from the State Counselor, he added.

“The Tatmadaw were merely carrying out orders given to them by their superiors and they acted on those orders because that’s what soldiers in any country do. So, they want to say to the world that they are not guilty and any degree of culpability should be placed on the person or persons who issued the direct orders. In other words, the Tatmadaw is saying that they have no blood on their hands and they’re innocent of any war crimes,” he said.

The idea of treating the AA the same as ARSA could lead to a collapse of trust between Rakhine people and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in relation to her stance on ethnic affairs. Some point out that people should not compare an ethnic armed group with an armed organization formed by a group who are not recognized as one of Myanmar’s national ethnic groups.

“Treating the Arakan Army similar to ARSA is like saying that the AA and Arakan people are illegal immigrants, which is just not true. The AA was formed as a necessity for security and stability for all Arakan people. If the State Counselor views people from Rakhine state or other ethnic groups for that matter in the same light as Bengalis or illegal immigrants then it would seem that her vision or judgement is terribly blurred”. Khaing Thukha said.

Before the Tatmadaw publicized Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s mandate, the spokesperson of the President’s Office U Zaw Htay warned Arakanese who support the Arakan Army to assess the results of conflicts in Rakhine State due to the AA. He also told Rakhine people to stop supporting the AA.

He also asked Rakhine people if they want to see armed conflicts occur unabated in Rakhine State.

Rakhine’s strong political parties and Arakanese people interpret his question as a deliberate threat to them. They strongly objected to his remark.

After the remarks of U Zaw Htay, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s mandate appeared. That lessens the degree of trust of Rakhine people in the government headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The NLD party led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won nine seats in the 2015 election for Taunggup, Thandwe and Gwa townships.

Expressing her opinion to crack down the AA while it gets stronger and greater support from Rakhine people could lead to a situation where the NLD will not win any seats in Rakhine State in 2020.It might even lose the place it won in the 2015 election. The NLD government has been criticized for being out of touch with Rakhine people and it never works with Rakhine people in implementing Rakhine affairs including Bengali issues.

Combining the situation in the Rakhine State parliament where the majority are NLD MPs, Rakhine MPs did not get a chance to discuss issues in parliament, their discussion regarding Rakhine affairs were rejected and their proposals always defeated, the future of the NLD is uncertain.

The force of people is very important for a government.  It cannot reach its goal without the support of people. The government should work with Rakhine people during its remaining tenure, especially implementing Rakhine affairs. It should not neglect Rakhine people when they are trying to work for Rakhine State.

Otherwise, the relationship between the government and Rakhine people will only deteriorate even more. If things do work in a positive way, it will be good for the government, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD. It needs to seek a solution through a political approach to stop the conflict in Rakhine State as quickly as possible.

“The force of revolution never dies. And it is also not easy for a revolutionary force to root out the government’s military force but sometimes it does happen. So, both sides need to negotiate for the rights, management and self-administration by treating everyone equally in order to move the peace process forward,” said U Khaing Kaung San, director of Wan Lark Foundation (Arakan).

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