Ethnic Political Parties Condemn UEC Action Against Imprisoned Arakanese MP

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Union Election Commission (UEC) withdrawal of an imprisoned Arakanese politician’s status as a lawmaker and barring of his ability to run for office could impact national reconciliation in Burma, ethnic political party representatives said.

The UEC removed Dr. Aye Maung’s title as a parliamentarian on May 18 after being elected as the Lower House representative for Rakhine State’s Ann Township in the by-elections of April 2017 as a member of the Arakan National Party (ANP).

He was later charged with violating Articles 122(1) and 505(b) of the Penal Code, which outline punishments for treason and defamation of the state, respectively. He was arrested for remarks he made on Rakhine armed struggle in January 2018, on a day commemorating the fallen Arakanese kingdom.

A Sittwe District court found him guilty of the charges on March 19, 2019. His appeal was rejected, and he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. The sentence was later reduced to 15 years.

The UEC’s announcement ending Dr. Aye Maung’s political career cited Article 11(d) of the country’s electoral law as the statute invalidating his status as an MP, and Article 88(a) as barring him from running in future elections.

“I don’t think they needed to put the election law in this statement. In my opinion, they intentionally put it in the statement because they want to let people know the sentence and the punishment,” ANP parliamentarian and party spokesperson Aye Nu Sein told NMG. “Even though [the government] is talking about national reconciliation, everybody sees that they have restricted an individual’s freedom of speech. We can have different opinions.”

General secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) Sai Lek said that the UEC’s move deviates from the path declared by the National League for Democracy (NLD) government regarding peace- and trust- building.

“The NLD government has declared that they would implement national reconciliation and build peace. Even though they speak out about ethnic unity, they have yet to implement it,” he told NMG. “This move is so ugly because it was decided by an elected civilian government. Even though it is in line with the law, I think they made the decision out of emotion.”

Gumgrawng Awng Hkam, vice chairperson of Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP), said that the government should seek another way to resolve the issues raised by Dr. Aye Maung.

“We are trying to build a federal Union. This matter should not have happened at this time,” he said. “I think they should solve this matter using political means. They should solve it through negotiation.”

It is not too late for the NLD to turn the situation around, the SNLD’s Sai Lek said.

“If [the government] wants to discuss and work together with ethnic people, they can release him with a Presidential pardon,” he pointed out, referring to Dr. Aye Maung. “If they can reduce their political grudge and personal matters, they can start a political dialogue with all ethnic groups, and I think this problem could be solved.”

The ANP’s Aye Nu Sein said that the options for ethnic political parties remain limited in the current political climate.

“In Burma, if a government comes into power, the opposition groups are going to be put in prison or they will go to a liberated area for armed struggle. In my opinion, these are the circumstances Dr. Aye Maung is facing,” she told NMG.