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Daw Suu plans ‘risky’ Rakhine trip

By Ei Ei Toe Lwin
September 18, 2015

National League for Democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will next month embark on one of the toughest political challenges of her leadership: winning over voters in Rakhine State.

NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech in Hpasawng, Kayah State, on September 11. Photo: AFP

The Nobel Peace Prize winner will make her first trip to the conflict-riven state since being released from house arrest in 2010.

“She will go [to Rakhine State] in early October,” confirmed U Win Htein, a senior member of the party.

She has faced significant criticism in Rakhine due to perceptions she is too focused on human rights, soft on “race and religion”, and sympathetic to the cause of the state’s Muslims.

Internationally, however, she has been castigated for failing to speak out against communal violence targeting Muslims in Rakhine State and elsewhere.

The trip will only take in southern Rakhine State, which has for the most part escaped the violence that in 2012 left about 200 people dead and 140,000 displaced.

U Win Htein said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would campaign in Thandwe, Gwa and Toungup. The NLD won the seats in the 1990 election, beating out the Arakan League for Democracy, and is confident of doing so again.

But Rakhine State is a significantly different proposition 25 years on, largely due to rising Buddhist nationalism. In 1990, the NLD featured Muslim candidates in its lineup in northern Rakhine State but jettisoned them this time around to avoid being wedged on the issue.

Nevertheless, the party remains unpopular among some in Rakhine State. Observers say the trip is risky and may damage relations between the NLD and the Arakan National Party, which is expected to win a large number of seats.

If ties between the two parties fray, the NLD might struggle to win support from the ANP in parliament, said political commentator U Yan Myo Thein – possibly depriving it of the votes it needs to select the president.

“She must be very cautious when she gives her campaign message to people in a sensitive area [like Rakhine State],” he said.

“She should not go there. Instead, she should let the township committee campaign themselves,” he said. “If trust and mutual understanding is lost between NLD and ethnic parties, the NLD will face difficulties if they do not get enough votes to form government on their own.”

As in other ethnic minority areas of the country, she is also perceived by some in Rakhine State as not being supportive enough of ethnic rights, including natural resource sharing and decentralisation of power.

Officials from the ANP, one of three ethnic Rakhine parties contesting the vote, said they were concerned the trip could create “misunderstanding” about the Rakhine people.

“I know every party, including the NLD, has the right to do campaign activities but I think she should not come to Rakhine State because the situation is complex,” said U Oo Hla Saw, a central executive committee member of the Arakan National Party, who is running for a Pyithu Hluttaw seat in Mrauk Oo township.

“I’m not sure exactly how Rakhine people will respond. If they do some response, people outside the state might misunderstand the Rakhine people and Rakhine parties will face accusations.”

But others yesterday downplayed the risks for the NLD leader.

Ko Zin Ya Kyaw, a resident of Toungop, said ethnic Rakhine are not as “rude” as they are sometimes perceived.

He also suggested that some may be manipulating opposition to the NLD for their own purposes. He said some bloggers have tried to spread rumours that Rakhine people will protest during Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trip and that her life may even be in danger if she visits the state.

“I don’t expect there will be any serious protests during the trip and there are definitely no worries about her security. I hope people can know the Rakhine people’s attitude toward the NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi … through that trip,” Ko Zin Ya Kyaw said.

U Win Htein said the party was also unconcerned about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s safety in southern Rakhine State.

“As the people’s leader, she thinks she should go around the nation and meet with people. It’s not unusual. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi takes her own security … so don’t worry about that,” he said.

Before travelling to Rakhine State, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will visit Nay Pyi Taw and Yamethin in Mandalay Region on September 19 and Sagaing Region on September 25 and 26.

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