Just over a month after its resounding general election victory, the National League for Democracy (NLD) on December 12 appointed three senior party members to meet with ethnic representatives and work toward reaching consensus on the particulars of a future Myanmar. And precisely one month prior to its appointment of the three-member team, the NLD sent an open letter to 48 ethnic political parties inviting cooperation to achieve what it says are shared goals, including the establishment of a federal Union.

DMG reporter Min Tun recently interviewed U Thar Tun Hla, who chairs the Arakan National Party (ANP), winner of the most seats in Arakan State during last month’s election. They discussed the NLD’s outreach, the ANP’s political position heading into 2021, and his party’s hopes for the form that the next Arakan State government will take.

Question: The NLD is arranging to meet and discuss with ethnic political parties. Has the NLD contacted the ANP about this?

Answer: We have heard through the media that the ruling party NLD has assigned three people, including [Magwe Region Chief Minister and NLD Secretary-3] Dr. Aung Moe Nyo, to discuss with ethnic political parties. However, the ANP has not currently received any official offer from the NLD to meet and discuss. We officially received the letter that was uploaded online on November 12 with a title ‘Union affairs matters that must be orientated in a future Myanmar’. We have responded to the NLD that the letter was well received. Since then, no offer has been received so far regarding an official meeting to discuss with us.

Q: What topics will the ANP discuss if the ANP sits down with the NLD?

A: We currently know only what the NLD’s officials have told journalists, since we were not officially offered discussions yet. So, we are reviewing the situation based on information we received from the media.

Q: What will the ANP demand if there are discussions with the NLD?

A: I think it depends on the contours of the discussion and the extent to which the stakeholders are available to make decisions, and their mandate. As far as I know, the NLD will meet each ethnic political party to listen to the opinions and desires of the ethnic political parties, and the Central Executive Committee of the NLD will confirm the agreement points collected from the discussions. I heard that they cannot come to Arakan State due to security reasons and we have not received any offer yet.

Q: If the NLD proposes that the ANP appoint an ANP member as chief minister, what will the ANP do and what is the ANP’s opinion on that? Who would your party select as chief minister?

A: It is important that the chief minister should be elected by a majority of MPs in the state Hluttaw [legislature]. If the chief minister is appointed by the decision of one individual, it is not in accord with the democractic landscape. The 2008 Constitution said that the person proposed by the president is chief minister, but it is important to meet the standards of democracy. The important point is that the chief minister of Arakan State should be an elected candidate who is nominated by a majority of the MPs in the state Hluttaw, because that kind of chief minister is responsible and accountable to the Hluttaw.

Q: If an ANP member is not appointed as chief minister, will the ANP stand as an opposition party, as it did in 2015?

A: It depends on the composition of the parliament. In the coming state Hluttaw, there are seven MPs from the ANP, five from the NLD, two from the Arakan Front Party and one from the Union Solidarity and Development Party, as well as military MPs.

Q: Will the ANP be OK if ANP members are appointed for cabinet minister posts but not for chief minister?

A: We are now focusing on the situation of elections [in constituencies not allowed to vote last month] because the issue of forming the government is in March. So, we are considering the holding of elections in the areas where voting was cancelled on November 8. After the Arakan Army and Tatmadaw released their statements to hold elections in the areas where voting was cancelled, the ANP issued a statement saying it welcomed the demands in the statements to hold elections.

Q: If an ANP member is not appointed as chief minister, could the current conflict in the state worsen?

A: It is important that Arakan State should have a government that represents the majority of the people in Arakan State. If so, it will become a dignified government. If the government is not close to the majority of the people in Arakan State and it does not represent the majority of the people in Arakan State, there will be challenges to resolve conflicts and problems in the state.

Q: What else would you like to say?

A: I want to say that we welcome the NLD’s attempt to have contact with ethnic political parties by forming a three-member committee. We welcome its plan to meet and discuss with ethnic political parties because we conclude that the invitation of the ruling party shows that it has had a change [of approach] to working with ethnic political parties for the best interests of the future federal Union, though it did not make any contact with ethnic political parties after the 2015 election.

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