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NLD, ANP and military face off over Rakhine chief minister post

By Nyan Lynn Aung

February 15, 2016

Speculation is mounting over the identity of the next chief minister of Rakhine State, one of only two states and regions in the country where the National League for Democracy does not enjoy a thumping majority. The installation of U San Kyaw Hla, a member of the Arakan National Party, as Speaker of the Rakhine State Hluttaw last week has aroused hopes – and fears – that the chief minister will also be an ANP member.

Former Rakhine State chief minister U Maung Maung Ohn has been pegged as a potential candidate. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar Times

The chief ministers of the states and regions, as well as their cabinets, are to be nominated directly by the president of the Union to be elected by parliament next month. March 17 has been set as the deadline for nominations for the presidency and the two vice-presidential posts.

Whatever the eventual choice, the issue is likely to be contentious in a state still gripped by poverty and ethnic and religious tensions, as well as armed clashes in the north.

According to some sources, the nominee will be Sittwe’s National League for Democracy leader, U Nyi Pu. Others point to the return of the former chief minister, U Maung Maung Ohn, who has a military background.

The NLD has expressed a preference for its own U Nyi Pu to take on the position Chief Minister. Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw / The Myanmar Times

The choice is unlikely to be made in a vacuum, but could be linked to discussions between NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the military over a package of nominations, including those of the president and vice presidents, as well as those of key states and regions.

One informed theory has it that the military, in exchange for as-yet-unspecified concessions on their part, are demanding that the incoming government should accept military-approved candidates for the chief minister positions in Shan State, Rakhine State and Yangon Region. Agreement may already have been reached on the Shan State nominee.

In this scenario, U Maung Maung Ohn would be the military’s favoured candidate, a theory strengthened by the former Rakhine chief minister’s participation in a recent capacity-building course for cabinet members held in Nay Pyi Taw.

“Both of them – U Nyi Pu and U Maung Maung Oh – participated in the training. So I don’t know who will become chief minister,” said the source.

ANP members who are demanding the right to name a chief minister because their party is teetering on the verge of a majority in the state would nevertheless be prepared to accept U Maung Maung Ohn over U Nyi Pu because they think his military background could be of value in ensuring the security of the state.

“At the moment, Rakhine State needs the support of the military. A civilian government might not be able to provide the necessary security guarantees,” said U Tun Aung Kyaw, secretary of the ANP.

Some residents of the state also give U Maung Maung Ohn credit for stabilising the state after the inter-communal violence of 2012.

U Kyaw Mra, 65, said U Maung Maung Ohn could bring stability, but criticised his spending record. “He spent money on vanity projects rather than on building roads,” he said.

Saw Mra Raza Linn, chair of Rakhine Women’s Union (RWU) said the incoming government should recognise Rakhine State as a self-administering zone. This would give the next chief minister more room to manoeuvre in balancing the need for economic development with the need for social stability.

“Rakhine State needs military support. But that doesn’t mean military rule. The military should be prepared to work with a civilian chief minister to resolve security issues,” she said.

U Khaing Kaung San, founder of the Wan-Lark Development Foundation, said both the NLD and the ANP should bear in mind that a great deal of international attention would be focussed on Rakhine State.

“Some in the international community might consider that an ethnic Rakhine chief minister might show more bias than a member of another ethnic group, including Bamar,” he said.

Ma Phyu Hnin Wai, 24, a reporter with the Rakhine-based weekly Narinjara News, said the next chief minister should be a Rakhine, but that the main requirement was to guarantee security.

Others stressed the need to improve living conditions for ordinary citizens, and to strengthen their human rights.

Hol Li Hor Mar T, 57, a resident of That Kay Pyin displaced persons’ camp, said the former chief minister U Maung Maung Ohn had oppressed his community, denying their right to health and education. “Despite Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s talk of democracy and human rights, we have not seen any improvement here so far. I want a chief minister who will take action,” he told The Myanmar Times.

Mohamadd Solime, 35, from Baw Du Pha IDP camp, said he was worried that his community would suffer even more under an ethnic Rakhine chief minister. “But I hope the next chief minister can create job opportunities for us, even though we no longer have full rights,” he said.

One NLD member of the Rakhine State parliament said a short list of future cabinet ministers had already been drawn up in Nay Pyi Taw, subject to NLD confirmation. U Min Aung added, “The name of the next chief minister is not going to come as a surprise for many people.”

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