Aye Maung, chairman of the Arakan National Party (ANP), is gunning for the state’s top position after Sunday’s election, a role that would leave him well-placed to direct the western region’s economic and investment agenda, along with directly handling the issue of communal tensions between the Buddhist Arakanese and Muslim Rohingya.
Speaking to DVB yesterday, Aye Maung said that he is interested in becoming chief minister, a role that is typically appointed by the president.
“Yes, yes,” he said. “My party also encourages me to be chief minister of my state.”
Despite the party’s relative newcomer status, the ANP looks set to dominate the polls on Sunday. The ANP is the product of a 2014 merger of the Arakan League for Democracy and the Rakhine Nationalities Democratic Party, which contested the 1990 and 2010 elections respectively. Aye Maung, who hails from the class of 2010, is confident of the new party’s success. “We will win 100 percent in all parts of Rakhine [Arakan],” he said.
The role of chief minister is a key position in determining a state’s development. In the case of Arakan, the position attracted controversy last year when President Thein Sein appointed Maung Maung Ohn, a former major-general and an ethnic Burman who resigned from the military to take up the post.
While the strategically favourable region has oil and gas pipelines in Kyaukphyu connecting the Indian Ocean to southwestern China, it was also the site of communal violence in 2012 when riots broke out between Arakanese Buddhists and the minority Muslim Rohingya, leading to more than a hundred deaths and displacing more than 140,000 Rohingyas who are now confined to IDP camps. Tens of thousands more have fled the country. The new chief minister could determine how this issue will be resolved.
There have been numerous reports of the ANP’s racist and nationalist rhetoric on the campaign trail, but Aye Maung claimed that his party was not capitalising on anti-Muslim rhetoric to persuade voters.
“No, no, no,” he said. “The Arakan National Party is not anti-Muslim. We are engaging with all the communities. It is not based on religious status.”
Yet the chairman also referred to the persecuted Rohingyas as “Bengalis” – a term used to imply that they are illegal immigrants – saying that if he were elected chief minister, he would try to solve the issue of communal violence.
“My government will [work] based on the existing laws for some Bengalis who want to be citizens,” he said. “So the immigration problem will have a solution when it comes to the community conflict.”
Meanwhile, his top priority is to ensure development for Arakan State, and he says he will be turning to international players for this.
“China and other countries – we will invite for future development of my state,” Aye Maung said. “Even America, if they are interested in my state’s development, we will invite them.”
Aye Maung is also open about the politicking process, saying he will throw his support behind whichever presidential candidate is more likely to win in order to get the chief minister position.
“[Who I support] depends on who will be our president.”
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