The incumbent Upper House representative for Gangaw Township in Magwe has touted his party’s credentials as being racist and discriminatory against Rohingya Muslims.
At a campaign event last week in the village of Bawpyin in his constituency, senior MP and renowned firebrand Hla Swe of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) rallied a crowd of supporters with the following discourse: “People of the village of Bawpyin, let me ask you a question – would you agree to give citizenship to the Rohingya kalar [derogatory term for dark-skinned people of South Asian descent]?”
The crowd responded in unison: “No, we don’t!” Hla Swe repeated the question twice, before reassuring his constituents: “Well, I am delighted to know that the people of Bawpyin are on the same page as our president, USDP Chairman U Thein Sein.”
He added: “U Thein Sein has stated on the record in newspapers that there are no Rohingya in Burma. There are only Bengali kalar and they shall not be granted citizenship. He has declared this publicly and even stood up to the UN on the subject.”
But despite the applause and cheers, not all local residents in the Magwe town appreciated Hla Swe’s sentiments.
“USDP candidate U Hla Swe during his campaign yesterday dug up matters of nationalism and religion to use as leverage,” said Bawpyin villager Chan Min on 22 October. “He also said that his father had fought against Thakin Soe’s Red Flag communists, and that now he, Hla Swe, is continuing the fight against another ‘red flag’ party.”
The latter statement was presumably a jibe at Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), whose brand colour for campaigning is red.
Also running in the 8 November general election in Gangaw Township are candidates from the NLD, National Unity Party, and National Unity Congress Party, as well as four independent candidates.
In the 2010 election, Hla Swe took the Upper House seat with nearly 64,000 votes, although candidates from three other parties also received more than 20,000 ballots each. The NLD did not contest that election.
Hla Swe’s inflammatory comments come at a time when many political figures and observers have warned of increased religious tensions around election day.
The opposition NLD has also come in for criticism – although mostly from foreign media – for its attempts to distance itself from the Rohingya crisis. The NLD rejected all Muslim candidates from its party list for the upcoming election.
Read more about the Rohingya crisis
Read more of DVB’s 2015 election coverage