Protesters in Western Myanmar Demand The Right to Choose Chief Minister

myanmar-voter-sittwe-nov8-2015.jpg A young man casts a vote at the Kyi-Pin-Kyi polling station in Sittwe, western Myanmar's Rakhine state, during the country's general elections, Nov. 8, 2015.

About 500 protesters in western Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state demanded on Wednesday that they be allowed to choose their own chief minister from the state's strongest local ethnic political party, in an expression of discontent with the incoming government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The protestors marched through the state capital Sittwe, demanding that the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which Aung San Suu Kyi chairs, respect the Rakhine people’s wishes and not set up what they called a one-party dictatorship in the state.

The Arakan National Party (ANP), which represents the interests of the predominantly Buddhist, ethnic Rakhine majority living in the state and in the Yangon region, won 22 seats in the country’s National Assembly in general elections last November that swept the NLD to victory over the military-backed  Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

It also won 23 of 47 state parliament seats, but failed to gain a majority in the Rakhine state legislature because a quarter of seats automatically went to military representatives, as they do in other state and regional parliaments as well as in the National Assembly. By contrast, the NLD won only eight seats in Rakhine’s legislature in the election.

“The Rakhine people’s votes were for the ANP,” Aung Ko Moe, one of the protest leaders, told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We want an ANP government for Rakhine state because the ANP won in Rakhine in the last election.”

Myanmar’s new president, Htin Kyaw of the NLD, has the authority to nominate chief ministers and their cabinet members in the country’s 14 states and regions. State and regional parliaments, however, can reject the president’s nomination for chief ministers if they can prove that the candidate has failed to meet required qualifications.

The NLD has nominated Nyi Pu, a lawmaker from its party who represents Rakhine’s Gwa township, as the state’s chief minister, according to a report earlier this month by Eleven Myanmar media group, quoting NLD Central Executive Committee member Win Htein.

He would replace Maung Maung Ohn, the incumbent chief minister who is a Myanmar army general and former deputy minister of home affairs.

The ANP issued a statement on Jan. 19 demanding that one of its own party members be appointed as the state’s chief minister so that he could form a state government led by the ANP. The party threatened to stand in opposition to the NLD if it does not get its way.

In response, the NLD said it would appoint the chief minister and government for Rakhine despite protests by the ANP, but would consult with all ethnic parties and not discriminate against any of them.

Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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