SINGAPORE — The closely watched appointment of the Chief Minister in Myanmar’s Arakan (Rakhine) state would have implications on both the humanitarian situation for Rohingya Muslims and the country’s parliamentary composition, said a prominent Rohingya activist.
In an interview with TODAY earlier this week, Mr Maung Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, noted that the political jockeying for Rakhine state’s top post was being played out between the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), the ultra-nationalist Arakan National Party (ANP), and the country’s military — which remains a potent political opposition in Parliament.
“The ANP is saying that if the NLD is really democratic, (the latter) has to select someone from ANP,” he said, referring to the fact that the ANP beat the NLD at the state-level polls last November.
“But if there is an ANP Chief Minister, there will be more policies of persecution that will be pursued to eliminate the Rohingya,” said Mr Tun Khin. He explained that the Chief Minister would be able to dictate local policies — including whether international aid agencies will be allowed additional access to Rohingya camps.
He noted that Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD is in a difficult position, as the ANP, which is pushing for the Rohingya to be moved into camps or deported, has threatened to “give problems” to the ruling party.
“If NLD does not appoint a Chief Minister from the ANP, the ANP will stand with the opposition,” said Mr Tun Khin. But he emphasised that as the ultra-nationalist party’s warning was vaguely worded, the threat could involve the ANP working with the remnants of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and possibly the military lawmakers in Parliament to form a coordinated opposition bloc to oppose the NLD.
At the same time, said Mr Tun Khin, the military — which occupies one quarter of the seats in Parliament — has been pushing to appoint Chief Ministers in some resource-rich and strategic areas, including the Arakan (Rakhine), Shan and Kachin states, among others. If the military pushes to retain the incumbent Rakhine Chief Minister General Maung Maung Ohn, the humanitarian situation for the Rohingya will continue to remain dire.
Although having grown up in Myanmar, Mr Tun Khin, who is a Rohingya himself, was forced to leave the country to pursue his tertiary education overseas after Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law — which rendered 1.1 million Rohingya effectively stateless — curtailed his right to further education, freedom of movement and employment.
The activist, who is regularly in touch with internally displaced Rohingya and fellow human rights advocates in Myanmar, warned that since 2012 there has yet to be any improvement in the conditions of the Rohingya currently confined in camps.
“Children and pregnant women are dying day by day because the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is not able to provide enough medical aid,” said Mr Tun Khin, adding that although MSF was allowed back into Myanmar months after being kicked out in 2014, humanitarian access by the aid group was severely curtailed by the then-USDP government.
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