Burma’s new leaders court Arakan party

The victors in Burma’s recent elections have met with a leading Arakanese party in what analysts claim may be a precursor to choosing a new vice president.

The talks last week between the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which won 76 percent of seats, and the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), were brokered by the Election Commission. Dr Aye Maung, head of the RNDP, said the “casual” discussion focused on the development of the western state.

The dominance across the country of the USDP, which receives substantial backing from the Burmese junta, did not stretch to Arakan state, where it came in second behind the RNDP. The party won 18 seats, four more than the USDP, which fielded candidates in the vast majority of constituencies.

Its success there has led analysts to question the motives of the meeting. Dr Aye Maung said that he did not know what the “intentions of the ministers” were, but that a local power-brokering deal was a possibility.

Aung Lynn Htut, once a senior-ranking Burmese diplomat in Washington who later defected, said however that it could be the first step in the junta’s plan to appoint an ethnic representative as a vice president.

“The meeting between the RNDP and the USDP was ordered by Senior General Than Shwe,” he said, adding that “since 2009, the [junta] had a plan to appoint [an ethnic person] for one of the three vice-presidential positions,” and the Arakanese victory made it the strongest contender.

He said the inclusion in the USDP of industrial minister Aung Thaung was a sign that the meeting “wasn’t an honest discussion but more likely [an attempt] to make the RNDP their [USDP’s] subordinate”.

Various struggles for ethnic autonomy in Burma’s border regions have plagued the junta since it came to power in 1962. Its recent attempt to transform 17 armed groups who agreed to ceasefire deals in the 1990s into junta-backed border militias has stalled, and tensions in the already volatile ethnic regions have risen.

Aung Lynn Htut said the courting of the Arakanese party could be a sign that the ruling generals “are looking for new ethnic friends” following the failure of the Border Guard Force plan.

There is also a chance that the RNDP could be more malleable than the Shan Nationalities Democracy Party (SNDP), which was the most successful ethnic party in the elections, winning 57 seats.

The SNDP, whose ideology mirrors that of the former opposition party, the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), which came third in the 1990 elections, likely made them more resistant to approaches by the junta proxy, Aung Lynn Htut said.

“When I was [in government], it was the Kachin they were looking to as the first [vice presidential] candidate,” he added. And when a ceasefire deal was struck with the Kachin army, former prime minister Khin Nyunt told them that Burma’s future prime minister would be Kachin, Aung Lynn Htut continued.

But the Kachin army’s refusal to become a border militia has damaged relations, hence the switch to pressuring the Arakanese, he said.

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