Anti-foreigner motion on Rakhine advisory body defeated
THE Pyithu Hluttaw yesterday voted down an urgent proposal seeking the removal of three foreigners from a recently formed Rakhine State advisory commission that has provoked the ire of nationalists. The failed motion came the same day commission members included former UN secretary general and Ghanaian Kofi Annan travelled to state capital Sittwe for an initial foray into the Rakhine’s thorny political arena.
A total of 34 lawmakers debated the proposal, with those in favour hewing to a general argument that Rakhine State’s issues were an internal affair, while those against said there was a clear international component to the border state’s woes.
Daw Ni Ni May Myi (NLD; Taunggok) spoke against the proposal, pointing to a “boat-people” crisis last year involving Myanmar, Bangladesh and a handful of other ASEAN nations as proof of the international dimensions to the problems of Rakhine State. At one point the lawmaker even sought to bolster her case by noting that a Google search for “Rakhine conflict” yields more than 200,000 English-language hits.
“Therefore, I think people who have global cachet like Kofi Annan should be included in the commission without raising worries. The commission members have been chosen in accordance with standards such as [adherence to principles of] justice and admiration, experience and renown,” she said, while acknowledging that Rakhine State’s affairs were “subtle”.
Proposal supporter U Oo Hla Saw (Arakan National Party; Mrauk-U) argued that State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – whose office announced the creation of the commission on August 23 – was not vested with the authority to create such a body.
“Search and read the State Counsellor Law,” he said. “It doesn’t include any establishment of commissions in its five points on duties, authority and entitlements of the state counsellor. It means this commission lacks legitimacy,” he said.
The advisory commission has been tasked with researching and recommending solutions to alleviate interreligious tensions that made international headlines after 2012 violence between Buddhists and Muslims. More than 100,000 people, mostly Muslims, remain in squalid displacement camps.
But U Oo Hla Saw yesterday questioned foreigners’ ability to understand the state’s complexities.
“Our Rakhine State faces terrible Islamisation, which concerns all people in our country. No one can know our Rakhine people’s life like we do. So I would like to say, cooperate with us and resolve problems together,” he said.
Supporters of the proposal parroted other arguments put forward by nationalists in recent days, including that the NLD administration should stick to a set of recommendations made by a previous commission under its predecessor government.
Daw Khin Saw Wai (ANP; Rathedaung) said Rakhine State’s biggest problem was “illegal immigration”, touching on a core issue for both Buddhist nationalists and international human rights proponents: the fate of persecuted Muslims in the state self-identifying as Rohingya, whom nationalists refer to as “Bengali” to imply, erroneously in many cases, that they were born in Bangladesh.
The ANP-initiated proposal was defeated via a standing vote, with 250 lawmakers opposed and 148 in favour.