Ethnic tension, conflicts key concern for Myanmar’s incoming MPs

Yangon, Myanmar – On November 8, the Nationwide League for Democracy gained one other resounding victory in Myanmar’s nationwide election, claiming 920 of the 1,117 seats obtainable within the native and nationwide parliaments and bettering on its 2015 landslide.

The election was marred by some important shortcomings – primarily the exclusion of the Rohingya Muslim majority and widespread vote cancellations in Rakhine – however was freed from any critical irregularities and broadly seen as reflecting the NLD’s continued overwhelming recognition.

The professional-military Union Solidarity and Improvement Social gathering (USDP) did not win even in its former strongholds within the Buddhist heartlands and Yangon-based political analyst Richard Horsey mentioned it’s “successfully lifeless at this level as a nationwide political pressure”.

Whereas turnout for the election has been estimated at a staggering 71 %, not everyone is enthusiastic in regards to the political course of, nonetheless.

Yangon-based activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi selected to not vote.

“By no means thought I’d be on this level. I used to be all the time overexcited about elections and politics,” she mentioned in a message on election day. The primary think about her resolution to boycott was the exclusion of ethnic minorities. “I really feel responsible as if my vote is granted as a result of I’m from the bulk ethnicity,” she mentioned. “I stand in solidarity with these whose rights are denied.”

Numerous seats in Myanmar’s parliament are reserved for the armed forces, which has made it tough for the federal government to maneuver ahead on reforms to cut back the navy’s position in politics [File: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA)

All eyes are now trained on ethnic relations and democratic development, both policy areas where the government of Aung San Suu Kyi failed to make headway in its first term.

“The scale of the NLD’s victory gives it the space and political capital to adjust some of its policies and tackle more unpopular or controversial issues. Whether it will do so, or double down on the successful formula it has followed so far, remains to be seen,” Horsey said.

The new parliament is expected to sit in February.

Al Jazeera spoke to three incoming first-time members of parliament from different parties, ethnic backgrounds, and parts of the country about their plans for the upcoming term.

Win Mya Mya, 77, National League for Democracy

Win Mya Mya won her seat this year after being passed over as a candidate in the previous election [Supplied]

Win Mya Mya, a 77-year-old Muslim candidate from the NLD gained a seat within the nationwide parliament in Mandalay Area, after being controversially handed up by the get together in 2015, a choice many attributed to non secular discrimination.

“It began with the 1988 rebellion,” Win Mya Mya mentioned of her political profession. She joined the mass protests towards the navy dictatorship that 12 months, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and was one of many founding members of the NLD. “At the moment, we confronted loads of difficulties,” she mentioned.

The subsequent few many years had been a revolving door of arrests, with Win Mya Mya usually utilizing her personal cash to help NLD political prisoners.

She mentioned she was steadily detained, questioned, and intimidated for brief intervals of time. “In 1999, my brother and sister had been arrested and sentenced to a few years in jail. I used to be detained once more in 2000 and launched in 2001,” she mentioned. However following the 2008 Saffron Revolution protests, she was confronted with a extra critical sentence.

“I used to be sentenced to 12 years in jail,” she mentioned, however finally serving solely about 4.

“Dwelling alone in jail prompted me psychological issues. I couldn’t see anybody, and I had nowhere to go. With the assistance of a jail physician, I used to be allowed to stroll exterior for about half an hour a day.” Win Mya Mya served most of her sentence in Putao, situated within the distant northern reaches of Myanmar, among the many foothills of the Himalayas. She remained behind bars till 2012, when she obtained a presidential pardon.

Win Mya Mya’s political awakening got here in 1988 when there was a mass rebellion towards navy rule. She is a founding member of the NLD [File: Tommaso Villani/AFP]

Undaunted, she instantly returned to politics. “In 2013, I used to be elected by the folks on the Nationwide Social gathering Congress to turn into vice-chair of the Mandalay Area,” she mentioned, a place she nonetheless holds.

When requested how she feels to lastly be a member of parliament after a lifetime of battle, she is modest. “I see it as a job,” she mentioned. “I’m very pleased to have the ability to work for the folks in parliament.”

The NLD is thought for being a extremely centralised organisation, and Win Mya Mya declined to call any specific concern she would deal with in parliament, saying she didn’t know what duties she could be “assigned”.

She dodged questions in regards to the NLD’s resolution to exclude her from the 2015 election, as an alternative praising the get together’s efficiency. “The NLD authorities has finished lots in 5 years. Roads and bridges in each township. Reforms within the training system, electrical energy distribution,” she mentioned. Whereas she was not a member of parliament, she was nonetheless a high-ranking member of the get together, and mentioned she was capable of work on healthcare reform in that capability.

Win Mya Mya admitted non secular discrimination towards Muslims exists in Myanmar however denies that the NLD itself discriminates. “They’re pleasant no matter race,” she mentioned, additionally declining to touch upon the Rohingya disaster, which is the topic of a genocide investigation on the UN’s prime court docket.

Aung Thar Noe, 45, Arakan Nationwide Social gathering

Aung Thar Noe moved into politics with the Arakan Nationwide Social gathering after years working in civil society [Supplied]

In Rakhine State, the place Myanmar’s most intense battle rages, the native Arakan Nationwide Social gathering as soon as once more gained essentially the most seats within the nationwide and state legislatures, regardless of widespread election cancellations, which principally affected areas it gained in 2015. The cancellations meant the ANP fell in need of profitable an outright majority within the state parliament, however it did win in areas that the NLD had taken final time.

Horsey mentioned the outcomes present the ANP has “consolidated its maintain over the previous NLD strongholds … within the south of Rakhine State”.

Aung Thar Noe is a 45-year-old who was just lately elected to the Rakhine State parliament for the ANP, after many years in civil society. “I made a decision to take part in politics extra deeply as a result of I wish to save the Rakhine folks,” he mentioned. He was elected to the ANP’s central govt committee simply final 12 months.

“Being in Rakhine there isn’t a different organisation that represents the curiosity of the Rakhine folks,” he mentioned. Aung Thar Noe was elected in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine and one of many only a few constituencies within the northern a part of the state that really held elections this 12 months. He says the mass cancellations in the remainder of northern Rakhine improve his accountability.

The election was cancelled in lots of components of Rakhine due to the deepening battle between the navy and the Arakan Military, an ethnic Rakhine armed group [File: Nyunt Win/EPA]

“I’ve to carry out and perform the responsibility for the areas with no election. I’m the one MP from northern Rakhine space the place now we have our personal points; the battle, warfare crimes, [internally displaced people]. I’ve to commit extra time than an abnormal MP in different components of the nation as a result of I’m representing so many individuals,” he mentioned.

Whereas he hopes the native authorities can accomplish extra this time period, he mentioned it depends upon the NLD, which “refused to cooperate or share energy” within the final 5 years, regardless of the ANP profitable a majority in Rakhine in 2015. Since no get together gained a majority this 12 months, the NLD should resolve whether or not to type a coalition with the ANP or the navy bloc. Aung Thar Noe mentioned if the NLD chooses to work with the ANP, the danger of elevated battle might be diminished.

Horsey mentioned the primary actual take a look at would be the choice of the state parliament speaker early subsequent 12 months. “If the NLD bloc joins forces with the navy bloc to push by means of its candidate, this can anger Rakhine political leaders; if the NLD cooperates with the Rakhine events on a consensus candidate, this might be an vital sign of the NLD’s willingness to seek the advice of extra with ethnic events over key choices, and will assist to de-escalate political tensions,” he mentioned.

Nai Layae Tama, 57, Mon Unity Social gathering

Mai Layae Tama was as soon as a member of the political wing of the principle Mon armed group in Myanmar earlier than returning to life as a farmer [Supplied]

In Mon State, two ethnic Mon events merged to type the Mon Unity Social gathering in an try to keep away from splitting the vote after a poor displaying within the 2015 election. The MUP improved on its 2015 haul, profitable 5 seats within the nationwide parliament and 6 within the state parliament however was nonetheless a distant second to the NLD which gained an outright majority within the state.

Nai Layae Tama, a 57-year-old incoming member of parliament for the Mon State parliament, got here to politics through battle. From 1987 till 1998, he served within the New Mon State Social gathering, the political wing of the principle Mon armed group, retiring just a few years after the ceasefire settlement of 1995. “Then I took a relaxation and centered on my farming enterprise,” he mentioned.

He re-entered politics in 2012, earlier than changing into common secretary of the Mon Nationwide Social gathering in 2015, one of many two events that merged to turn into the MUP.

“I’ve been immersed in politics all my life,” he mentioned. “Throughout the five-year time period of the NLD authorities, I’ve not been glad with the NLD’s perspective in direction of ethnic events,” he added.

Nai Layae Tama mentioned his private precedence is to create a neighborhood improvement committee in Mon State that’s elected by the folks. The native parliament has drafted the legislation, however it has remained stalled. “Once I enter parliament, I’ll push to complete the neighborhood improvement legislation as quickly as potential,” he mentioned.

He mentioned a lot of the MUP’s objectives will “depend upon how constructive the NLD could be in coping with ethnic events.” “We should wait and see,” he mentioned.

Horsey mentioned some ethnic events are “blaming an unfair NLD incumbent benefit” and “restrictions on campaigning as a result of COVID-19” for his or her poor outcomes. Nevertheless, he additionally expects the election loss will “immediate a lot soul-searching”. “In the event that they conclude that the electoral system is stacked towards them, this might deepen political division – and in some locations, armed battle,” he mentioned.

Nai Layae Tama appears keen to proceed participating in electoral politics for now however must see some compromise from the NLD this time period. He mentioned there “are varied causes” why the get together did worse than anticipated, however that he’s nonetheless typically “glad” with the end result. “Within the constituencies, we misplaced, the vote was very shut,” he mentioned, including that many Mon migrant employees weren’t capable of come house and vote as a result of COVID-19 journey restrictions.

The MUP’s continued engagement with the political course of will even depend upon the NLD’s engagement within the peace course of. “If we are able to turn into an inclusive authorities after the outcomes of the current election, it might be very useful for peace,” he mentioned.