By Min Tun
As Myanmar looks ahead to a general election slated for November 8, 2020, the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) will look to tout its record in power ahead of the vote. With campaigning activities not far off, DMG solicited the opinions of individuals from various societal spheres by posing this question: What has changed in Arakan State in the four-plus years that the NLD has held office following its landslide election victory in 2015?
U Tun Aung Kyaw, Policy Affairs Steering Committee member, Arakan National Party
We expected Daw Aung San Suu Kyi — whom all people across Myanmar believed in as an icon — to develop democracy in Myanmar and could make the country develop in line with democratic standards. But it is hard to see the good changes we expected within five years.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi took office with a promise to develop the rule of law in Myanmar. However, the murder of three family members and child rape occurred under the rule of the NLD government. The most prominent case is the ‘Victoria’ case, and the offender hasn’t been found so far.
The main problem is that commodity prices have increased.
Another bad experience is that Arakan State is facing armed conflict, which had not broken out for nearly 50 years. Under the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League, there were clashes with members of the Communist Party of Burma. But after 2015, conflicts occurred in 2017, 2018 and 2019. There was conflict with Bengalis. The armed conflict between the Tatmadaw and Arakan Army displaced nearly 200,000 people from their homes as well as claimed more than 250 civilians’ lives.
The whole country did not get what they expected; what Daw Aung San Suu Kyi promised. In Arakan State, the state cabinet is not formed with political leaders of the state, but rather is operating with political staff who are following the instructions they are given.ent that took office in Arakan with the support of the people cannot protect Arakanese people who are facing destruction of their villages or property or businesses or lives. The IDPs are not provided sufficient supplies.
Moreover, regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, we do not see our state government, union government and authorised organisations raising public awareness about the disease among the people of Arakan State, giving information about the disease or dealing with the crowded situations in refugee camps amid the COVID-19 crisis, while other region and state governments can systematically conduct their activities to prevent the spread of the virus.
That’s why I’d like to say openly that the NLD government is weak in taking accountability and responsibility.
Daw Nyo Aye, chairperson of the Rakhine Women Network
We expected too much but nothing special developed in Arakan State.
Additionally, the internet ban in seven Arakanese townships has surpassed a year although we need to send messages to people about what they should know as it gets nearer to holding elections. It has a big impact on Arakan State.
Some regions of Myanmar might be enjoying good results from the NLD government, but the situation in Arakan State is worse and people might think democracy has ended in their region based on the current situation.
We do not see anything that is satisfying with regard to the current government because we thought a government that protects people who are suffering hardships during such a wide armed conflict area would appear, but our hope comes to nothing.
U Khaing Kaung San, director of the Wan Lark Foundation (Arakan State)
There are many changes in Arakan State. For example, vehicles do not need to pay road-use fees now between Sittwe and Ponnagyun, where there were three toll gates between the two towns that are 21 miles apart.
And roads are better in Arakan State. Concrete roads are built in most towns. Schools and drinking water tanks are built. Almost all townships have electricity access. These are improvements we have seen during the NLD government’s five-year term.
Dr. San Shwe, chair of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, Arakan State
Our party sees what has happened in Arakan State, what has changed in the state, and what Arakanese people have suffered or enjoyed since the NLD government took office in 2015. Arakanese people and journalists also know it. So, I do not need to express it, I think.
Ma Oo Khaing Thein, manager of the Rakhine Youth New Generation Network
No special changes are seen in Arakan State under the NLD government. Between 2016 and 2017, the situation looked like some good changes were occurring. However, the situation in Arakan State has been worse in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Under a civilian government that is walking the democratic path, there would be freedom of expression and freedom of movement. But since 2018, the government barred aid groups access to provide humanitarian aid for IDPs while clashes are occurring in Arakan State. It looks authoritarian.
Also, the 21st century is the IT age. People in this age depend on the internet to study, or search for job opportunities, or to do business, or shopping. So, the internet ban is also kind of authoritarian.
And then, the state government cannot make a decision. It has to follow the decisions of the union government. So, it does not look like practicing civilian government; it is like adopting dictatorship.
The situation at the moment is similar to the situation under the military government and the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League, I think.