Democracy Unravelled: Violence escalates in Rakhine state, Myanmar

14 September 2017

By CAP student correspondent Dot Mason

Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has faced condemnation in recent weeks for its silence over the persecution of Muslims in northern Rakhine state. Many prominent international figures have pointed the finger squarely at Aung San Suu Kyi. Amid the controversy, Suu Kyi has cancelled her planned visit to the United Nations General Assembly.

Dr Nicholas Farrelly, of the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, says the Myanmar government’s failure to control the situation is tragic, but unsurprising.

“This is a coalition made up of democrats, militarists, conservatives, and ethnic nationalists. In the past, those four elements haven’t been able to work together in a cooperative sense, so it’s no surprise that the coalition is unstable,” says Dr Farrelly.

Tasked with managing this diversity of interests, Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration lacks the political clout to condemn the violence. Her priority is to hold this uneasy coalition together for the sake of stability.

“NLD apologists will insist that Aung San Suu Kyi and her team have relatively little influence over security operations in northern Rakhine state.

"They do so by explaining yet again that the 2008 constitution has three key ministries that are still controlled by serving members of the armed forces: Defence, Home Affairs, and Ethnic and Border Affairs. Those are three ministries very clearly relevant to the unfolding situation in northern Rakhine state.”

Nevertheless, the decision not to condemn the violence is a political one.

The NLD’s landslide victory in the 2015 election was not possible without the backing of ethnic minorities and Buddhist nationalists.

These groups have little sympathy for the Rohingya.

“It comes down to a simple political calculation. The NLD can lose millions of votes if they’re not able to hold on to mainstream Buddhist chauvinist base,” explains Dr Farrelly.

In recent weeks, hundreds of Rohingya’s have been killed and nearly 400,000 have fled to Bangladesh.





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Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team