Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rejection of Rakhine advisory body approved by state hluttaw

A proposal rejecting the legitimacy of the Rakhine State Advisory Commission and its activities was approved by the Rakhine State legislature yesterday during a hluttaw session, in a vote of questionable practical significance.

Fourteen state MPs debated the motion, which was similar to a proposal in the Union legislature’s lower house put forward and defeated last week. The Rakhine State parliament’s objection to the commission received de facto approval yesterday after no one spoke against it.

“The Rakhine State Hluttaw represents Rakhine people’s voices and desires, so I will support this proposal on the basis of the Rakhine people’s desire,” said state hluttaw MP U Naing Kywe Aye (NLD; Thandwe 2), offering rare pushback from a National League for Democracy lawmaker against a commission his ruling party formed.

The crux of opposition to the nine-member commission, amplified by nationalist protests in recent weeks, has hinged on its inclusion of three foreigners, including former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

Rakhine lawmakers yesterday offered similar justifications for rejecting the commission as those put forward by Union parliamentarians last week.

Fragile Rakhine State’s affairs needed to be approach in consultation with local stakeholders and with public support, and formation of the commission involved neither of these, went one argument. Its work could actually exacerbate problems, went another, in a state still grappling with inter-religious tensions between Buddhist Rakhine and minority Muslims self-identifying as Rohingya.

Other familiar refrains were also on offer: that the commission’s foreigners posed a threat to sovereignty and that their outsider status rendered them unable to truly understand the state’s complexities.

The Rakhine State Hluttaw’s official rejection of the commission is likely of more symbolic than substantive importance, given that state legislatures have typically had little power relative to their Union counterpart. But the optics of the situation – a state hluttaw refuting, to little practical avail, an edict from Nay Pyi Taw – are not likely to help the NLD as it pushes a mantra of national reconciliation and pro-autonomy rhetoric about decentralising power to give ethnic minorities more say.

The Rakhine State Advisory Commission has been tasked with recommending durable solutions to the protracted inter-communal divide between Buddhists and Muslims since two bouts of violence between members of the two religions wracked the state in 2012, leaving more than 100,000 Rohingya displaced.

But Lieutenant Colonel Min Oo, a military MP, sounded a suspicious note yesterday, despite an earlier pledge from Mr Annan that the commission was not looking to conduct a “human rights investigation” in the state.

“We need to carefully work not to be a culprit for the troubles [the state faces] because the Rakhine State Advisory Commission is being organised with foreigners,” Lt Col Min Oo said. “We need to watch very carefully the commission’s activities.”

State hluttaw MP U Tun Aung Thein (Arakan National Party; Buthidaung 2) said, “The establishment of this commission, which comprises three foreigners including former UN general secretary Kofi Anan, is like we are trying to solve our internal affairs by looking abroad.”

The Rakhine State Advisory Commission was formed by the Union-level government on August 23. Its members toured Sittwe township last week in its initial foray into addressing the state’s woes.

Translation by Zar Zar Soe