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NLD No Match for Formidable Opponents in Rakhine State

The Arakan National Party head office in Sittwe. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

By Moe Myint 
October 10, 2015

The Arakan National Party (ANP) is tipped to win a majority of state and Union constituencies in Arakan State,

RANGOON — Saw Thein Htun’s quest to win a seat in the Arakan State Parliament has hit something of a snag: he is not allowed to campaign.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) candidate for the Buthidaung-2 constituency on the Bangladeshi border, Saw Thein Htun told The Irrawaddy on Friday that he had been prevented by locals from canvassing in several locations, most recently the Arakanese Buddhist village of Thar Si.

“When we reached the village, they said to us, ‘the NLD is a Muslim party, don’t hold a rally here,” he said.

The Arakan National Party (ANP) is tipped to win the seat Thein Htun is seeking, along with a majority of state and Union constituencies in Arakan, in Burma’s Nov. 8 elections.

The party lobbied aggressively for the eventual disenfranchisement of the state’s Rohingya population, which had voted in every national election up to 2010, and is now expected to capitalize on widespread and enduring antipathy among Arakanese Buddhists to the Muslim minority and the inability of the ruling-Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to address community tensions.

Kaung San Hla, a native of Arakan capital Sittwe, is also contesting a state seat for the NLD. He told The Irrawaddy that even before the communal violence of 2012, a majority of people in the area distrusted the opposition party.

“We can’t hope to get votes in this area,” he said. “It’s even very difficult to rent a building to open a party office.”

Kaung San Hla has a small chance of winning the seat all the same, partly thanks to a minor dispute within the ANP that led some spurned candidates to contest the constituency as independents. Under Burma’s first-past-the-post electoral system, he will need to win a plurality of the vote against seven other contenders.

At the same time, he conceded that with the disenfranchisement of the Rohingya population, he was unlikely to prevail over a groundswell of support for Arakanese nationalist opponents.

‘‘White card holder disenfranchisement [in Sittwe] has hit the NLD like it did in Maungdaw and Buthitaung townships,” he said, referring to the government’s decision to prevent Rohingya in possession of temporary identity documents from voting in the 2015 election.

The Irrawaddy spoke to five NLD candidates contesting seats in Arakan State on Friday. Most claimed the party still had a chance of picking up seats in the south of the state, but noted that the ANP was providing strong competition in every constituency.

Ba Gyi Kyaw, a 71-year-old Sittwe resident and journalist, said that he believed the ANP would sweep the state despite having less of a toehold in southern townships such as Thandwe and Gwa.

‘‘The USDP will win places with the military,” he said, referring to the Burma Army’s Western Command in Ann Township. “The competition will be strong in southern Arakan, but the ANP will win a majority of votes across the state.”

A total of 17 parties and 362 candidates will compete for Arakan’s 64 state and Union constituencies in the Nov. 8 poll.

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