Rohingya Party Prevented from Campaigning


Irrawaddy news, 22 Oct 2010,

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Tensions are high in Arakan State as the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) seeks to marginalize the ethnic Rohingya party, the National Democratic Party for Development (NDPD), which is competing in the Nov. 7 election in several constituencies with high Muslim populations in the state.

“People from the USDP know that they are going to lose the election in our area so they are trying to bully us,” an NDPD member who asked to remain anonymous told The Irrawaddy. “They obstruct our electioneering efforts and threaten us. They have warned us that Rohingya villages will be dismantled if we don’t do as they say.”

Local residents said the NDPD was forced to stop campaigning in Dunyaung Paungkyu Village in Maungdaw Township on Oct.15 due to USDP intimidation.

One local source said that a violent confrontation erupted between members of the USDP and the NPDP on Oct.16 near Khamaung Hseik Village in Maungdaw. The Irrawaddy, however, could not confirm the incident.

When asked about the alleged incident by The Irrawaddy, NDPD Vice-Chairman Hla Thein said,“We have had some minor problems with the USDP but it is yet to reach the stage of a fight. No matter what the USDP does, we will find out who is who once the competition begins. It is clear that our party has gained popular support in this area.”

Two ethnic Rohingya parties are listed to contest seats in the majority Muslim areas: the NDPD and the National Development and Peace Party (NDPP), which many observers say is acting as a proxy party for the USDP.

According to several locals, the NDPP, which was founded by construction company owner Aung Zaw Win, has the full support of the military regime.

“Around 8 o’clock this morning, Aung Zaw Win and other NDPP members drove around Maungdaw with more than 20 trucks calling on voters to support them. They were shouting very loudly, but no one opposed them,” said a resident in Maungdaw last week.

She said that Aung Zaw Win is electioneering in Maungdaw almost every day and drives around town in a high-profile convoy “as if he were a senior government official.”

Both Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships are 95 percent Muslim Rohingya. Only four parties—the NDPD, the NDPP, the USDP and the National Unity Party (NUP)—will contest the election in the two townships.

Residents in those towns said that only the NDPP and the USDP have the use of religious buildings, schools and state-owned buildings for their party campaign activities in the area.

On Wednesday, Thar Thar Aung, the chairman of the District Election Commission that covers Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships, allegedly summoned party leaders from the USDP and NDPD to his office.

Khaing Mrat Kyaw, the chief editor of Dhaka-based Narinjara News, said he believes the chairman attempted to mediate between the two parties concerning the recent spat of incidents.

Another source said the meeting was called following an incident in Maungdaw on Tuesday when USDP members blocked the road where the NDPD was attempting to campaign. The confrontation was resolved after local authorities intervened.

“We are watching the situation closely,” said Tin Soe, one of the editors at the Bangladesh-based Rohingya news agency Kaladan Press. “But we fear the tensions might ignite further violence.”

Related article: “USDP Faces Poll Challenge Despite one-horse Race” [October 8, 2010];

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