Following the cancellation of elections in nine of Arakan State’s 17 townships, including all of the state’s north, political parties fielding candidates in the south say they have doubled their campaigning efforts in the constituencies still holding the vote on November 8.
As Election Day draws near, ethnic political parties are taking stock of their prospects in southern Arakan State, where parties from the Bamar-dominated mainland have historically seen greater success at the polls. DMG’s Khin Tharaphy Oo — who has reported on public opinion, the challenges facing campaigns in the COVID-19 era, and political parties’ hopes for the upcoming vote — recently caught up with the leadership of three prominent Arakanese political parties and the state’s ethnic Kaman party, to get their thoughts on an election season like no other.
U Myo Kyaw, Secretary, Arakan League for Democracy
Nationalist spirit has increased in the southern part [of Arakan State]. It is the area where only political parties from the mainland usually won in the past.
What is different in 2020 is that Arakan State has witnessed armed conflict. There has been fighting. Arakan armed groups have arrived in Arakan State and are making movements with force. Under these circumstances, the local people have come to feel a reliance on [ethnic political parties] as their own people in their own state. Based on this, political and nationalist patriotism has been aroused. I’d like to say the current situation is encouraging.
The challenges began with the start of the 60-day election campaign period on September 8. Arakan State has had to go into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, putting a stop to election campaigns. The main difficulty is getting through these days while campaigns are being stopped. Clashes have erupted in some places and innocent people have died. Hluttaw representatives in Taungup were arrested. A mine explosion in Kyaukphyu Township. As a consequence, many obstacles were encountered in political campaigning.
Travel restrictions in and outside of towns have been imposed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Arakan League for Democracy has forecast since the beginning that the main area to rely on is the southern part [of Arakan State], where [the party] will make do with what it has. Arakan parties’ efforts were weak [in southern Arakan State in the past]. That is why the ALD has the idea to put forward major effort and enter the election in order to fill the gap. The Union Election Commission announcement [cancelling elections] came out on October 16. All northern townships could not hold elections. So, we had to turn our focus to the southern part. What we, the ALD, would like to say is the election is a multi-party election; all can contest.
Wherever Arakan people are, the ALD will be there. We will continue to put in our efforts and our force. We will not contest in Taungup and Gwa townships in the southern part. However, we will compete in Ann, Manaung, Kyaukphyu and Ramree townships. There will be less interest in the Bamar-based parties in these areas. But Arakan parties will be widespread and the competition will be tight. A total and clear majority victory cannot be expected. All Arakan parties will get their fair share of votes.
U Tha Tun Hla, Chairman, Arakan National Party
We believe the ANP will win in all townships. We are sure to win in every township in the southern part. This is a situation where people understand more about the nature of politics. They manage themselves in their areas. There are more supporters as they’ve realized only if the parties that represent their people become strong, Myanmar’s political situation can be changed.
There are changes in the political outlooks of Arakan people in the southern part. We can say the people understand more that the changes in Arakan State politics will happen only when there are those who will represent their people. We can say they know they need to vote for those who will represent them.
Currently, there are difficulties in campaigning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, we can do nothing except show the force of political parties with supporters. All townships in the southern part have seen changes in their nationalist spirit and political thinking. So, we believe the ANP will win in all townships it is contesting in the 2020 general election.
U Tin Ngwe, Vice Chairman, Kaman National Development Party
We will contest at two places in Thandwe. The Kaman people will support us as we are a Kaman party. However, there will be those among the Kaman people who will want to vote for the NLD. There will also be ANP supporters. The Kaman population currently in Thandwe is between 9,000 and 10,000. We cannot say all will vote for us. This is the situation. We cannot say for sure as there are Arakan people who will vote for the NLD and there are also Kaman people who will vote for the NLD.
Currently, it is not very encouraging, to put it frankly. We are going toward federal democracy and federalism’s definition is the right of participation of the ethnic people. But as we are an ethnic minority, the rights of them cannot reach the Hluttaw. So, to submit our people’s rights in the Hluttaw will not be like Arakan people. The Kaman people’s voices have been lost in the Hluttaw. We are a minority. As the nature of voting is victory for the majority of people, we are not likely to win as we are just a minority.
There are many difficulties relating to the election. There is fighting in Arakan State. Nine entire townships and certain places in Taungup and Kyaukphyu townships cannot hold elections. So, there are many difficulties. And the major problem is the COVID-19 pandemic. For public health reasons, even in places in Yangon like Mayangone Township, signboards cannot be installed. Restrictions on travel are still in force. So, there are difficulties even during the campaign period.
Our Hluttaw candidate standing for the election from Thandwe is still in Yangon. First we need to undergo quarantine to go to Thandwe. Once we are in Thandwe, we will have to be under home quarantine. So, there are so many difficulties.
U Khin Nu, Central Executive Committee member, Arakan Front Party
It is difficult to predict people’s support for our party. Whatever it is, we see less interest from people in the parties from the mainland. However, Arakan parties have been scattered a little bit. I don’t think there will be a clear majority of a certain party. I think the votes will be shared fairly among all parties.
But we can say the NLD will absolutely not get a landslide victory and will not be able to form a government. Under the current situation, we think the NLD will not make a clear majority and form a government. The Arakan situation will become important after the election. Both the ANP and AFP are likely to win. And if one or two ALD win, make negotiations after which it will become very important who will be chosen for chief minister of Arakan State.
If there is a coalition in the central government, the Union Solidarity and Development Party will give priority to representatives from the winning [Arakan] parties for the chief minister position. The military has also agreed.
As the military has said it agreed, whether the USDP allies with the military or the ethnic parties ally with the USDP, the potential can be predicted that ethnic political parties would be given the chief minister position in ethnic areas if the NLD could not win a widespread majority.
Then, the Arakan parties need to consider what they should do. If a party wins in two places and another party in four places, then the parties need to share among themselves unitedly.