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Ba Shein, 70, is an Arakan National Party (ANP) central executive committee member and second-term lawmaker in Burma’s lower house, where he represents Kyaukphyu Township. He was a senior member of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) before it merged with the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) to form the ANP, which became the most successful ethnic political party in the 2015 elections, winning 22 seats in the Union Parliament and 23 seats in the Arakan State parliament; the latter number falls just short of a controlling majority in the state parliament.
He spoke with Myanmar Now‘s Thin Lei Win & Htet Khaung Linn about the economic situation of his state in western Burma, the ANP’s strained relations with the National League for Democracy (NLD), and ANP’s internal divisions.
Question: The NLD government has taken office. Do you consider it a genuine civilian government?
Answer: The administration can be termed as an NLD-led government, as it won the majority of votes in the elections. It cannot be called a genuine civilian government because the ministers for home affairs, defence and border affairs are senior military officers, and one of the two vice presidents is a former military general.
The government will implement the NLD’s policies and they will set plans for the periods of 100 days, six month and one year. They may or may not reveal these plans to the public. They may just issue directives to respective ministries.
Q: The ANP was the biggest party in Arakan State, but is now embroiled in a dispute with the NLD after it appointed one of its member to become the state’s chief minister. Can you explain your party’s position on this issue?
A: The ANP was calling for the posts of speaker for state parliament and chief minister because we won the largest number of seats. However, the constitution grants the president the right to appoint chief ministers for states and regions.
If we could get a chance to discuss this issue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or her party, then from a political point of view, we would like to say that the NLD should favour ethnic parties for these posts.
For example, an [ethnic] Bamar candidate has been appointed chief minister of Shan State. They [the NLD] should understand the feelings of the ethnic peoples. Someone who has not lost something would not feel the loss, [but] Arakanese people are now suffering such a feeling. However, their sentiment should be expressed tactically, instead of using the path that gives rise to criticism.
Q: ANP lawmakers in the Arakan parliament walked out when the NLD’s chief minister appointment, Nyi Pu, was announced. What do you think of this action?
A: If they disapprove of the nomination of Nyi Pu for chief minister, MPs should choose legal means to object rather than an emotional response. They could also object to the proposal with sound arguments. It’s not appropriate to [do this] based purely on emotions. I don’t like this.
Q: The ANP has said it will go into opposition if it is not granted the chief minister position. Can you tell us more about this plan?
A: When the ANP made this announcement, I told them that it is reasonable for them to expect the posts for chief minister and speaker of state parliament, but their boycott of the state government is unreasonable. We all need to participate in the ongoing changes. We should avoid conflicts during the changes in the union government and the democratic transition. Otherwise, it would mean we are against democratic reforms. We like this reform, so we need to prove it.
Q: Is it true that the party has asked members to sign a pledge saying those who join the NLD-led state government would be expelled from the party and have to pay compensation to the party?
A: I don’t know the full details of this yet. If it’s true, some people may sign and others might not. Whatever the case, the ANP should issue a statement explaining why its members were asked to do this.
Q: Recently, some internal disputes emerged within the ANP relating to the pre-election merger of the RNDP and the ALD. Some members said there could be a split. Can you share your views on this issue?
A: Dr. Aye Maung said on 16 June of last year that the ANP could split before the elections. Is this something the head of a party should say? If he knows there’s the possibility of a split, what is his responsibility as the head of the party — to break it up or work towards keeping unity? When the parties merged, it wasn’t just about merging party members. Party emblems were also combined. This merger is for the benefit of the Arakanese people. Shouldn’t the party expel a leader that says such a thing? He need to understand the expectations of the Arakanese people. Some disputes in the ANP happened due to his efforts.
Q: Do you think the internal dispute is a distraction from working for the development of the state?
A: Party leaders will know themselves what they are doing. The chairman and secretary are taking leadership roles in their party and are responsible for adopting clear policies. More negotiations are needed in the party. If disputes cannot even be solved among the Arakanese people, how will they work together with other ethnic people in sharing power or control over natural resources? You could have disputes within the state [parliament], but internal unity is fundamental for union-level discussions. And we need to support democratic reform process. If we take on aggressive attitudes, would we become friends or obstructionists?
Q: Arakan is one of the poorest states in Burma. What needs to be done to develop it?
A: There are a lot of things to do. The government must lead reform plans, if it is not possible as yet to amend the constitution. Mutual understanding will be needed between the ruling party and us. If they wield authority without consideration for the locals, Arakanese people will not accept them. There could be some conflicts.
The NLD government must review contracts for [offshore] natural gas exploration and the [China-backed] Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone, which now benefit the Union Government, rather than the Arakanese people. There is no modern farming in Arakan State; agricultural machinery is needed, the strength of man-made [rice paddy] embankments has declined and needs to be reinforced with heavy machinery as they break when floods hit…
The Union Government should promote agricultural development in Arakan State, as well as the industries in order to bring back all Arakanese who have migrated.
The number of adult men is decreasing in Arakan State; there are not enough men and in some villages women have to carry dead bodies at funerals. The Union Government should help resolve such problems because the state government does not have the autonomy [to resolve them]. And now people are fighting over this empty [state] power.
Q: The Arakan Army is engaged in frequent clashes with the Burmese army in your state. What is your opinion of this conflict?
A: The death toll is considerable on the side of the military as it fights against the Arakan Army in Kyauktaw and Palatwa townships [on the border with Chin State]. The military may have feelings on this issue. They have arrested locals and accused them of having links with the rebels. The military assumes their actions are right, while the civilians would be bitter towards anyone who would hurt them. It’s important to avoid people becoming bitter.
The Arakan Army has different political ambitions from ours. We are fighting for Arakan from inside the parliament. The [conflict] will never end if the desire is to avenge the suffering resulting from the fighting. Ethnic armed groups are fighting the military not because they hope for victory, but to show their disapproval [of the central government] and to gain equal rights. Addressing this [latter] task is for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.