Myanmar mainstreams a recognizably Nazi-strain of "Buddhist" Racism against Muslims and Rohingya

After the eruption of the state-backed mass violence against the Rohingya - and Muslims - in Rakhine or Arakan State of Western Burma or Myanmar in June and Oct 2012, I began using the word Nazi-like, neo-Nazi, Fascist, etc in characterizing the alarming racist developments, including violent speech and acts of violence - all carried out with the blanket IMPUNITY of the state authoties at the highest level. 

Both the sincerely naive and the witting apologists among the English speaking circles - Burma watchers, academics and journalists - wrote my characterization as simply 'hyperboles' coming from a 'spoiler'. (I am a 'spoiler' because I refused to jump on the Myanmar band wagon of lauding the 'reforms' and licking the crumbs or chewing the bones that result from this process and I bark incessantly at what I saw as a scene where vultures of all stripes and colors hover or drive on to my country - which to me seems increasingly like a decaying corpse or animal carcas). 

In September 2012, I flew from Brunie where I was living and working to Bangkok to participate in a web-cast event on the rise of "Buddhist" nationalism in Burma at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. A long time Burma journalist Larry Jagan asked what I thought of President Thein Sein who was at the time unquestionably Myanmar's Man of the Hour, with "his" widely applauded "reforms". My answer, without any equivocation, was: "a world class liar" or to borrow The Economist's characterization of Tony Blair, "a sincere deceiver".

Sadly, some of my closest long-time friends have been involved in manufacturing and marketting Thein Sein, a graduate of the Defense Services Academy In-Take-9 (1967?), as "listerner-in-chief", "a good man", 'the best chance for peace", etc. 

Recent events have un-masked the real Thein Sein, a longest-serving loyal functionary of the aging despot Senior General Than Shwe whose soft-spokenness belies his ruthless, sinister, deceptive and calculating core. 

Within the Burma army, good soldiers do NOT get promoted. A brief detour on Thein Sein as a 'world class liar' aside, the country is definitely taking a Nazi turn: mainstreaming of Islamophobia, the active participation of the state - from local to the highest level of leadership (President Thein Sein and his office) in promoting and mobilizing anti-Muslim racism, the Legislature (the military-controlled parliament), the flagship opposition of the NLD and its Nobel Prize winning racist icon Aung San Suu Kyi, and the societally and culturally powerfully Buddhist Sangha or Order, the 

religion- and race-focused laws, etc. all point to how different "components" of Myanmar's society, religious and political establishments are morphing into Nazi-like entities.

The difference amongst these components are in degree, not in kind.

With that most disturbing backdrop, I have put together a small collection of deeply disturbing stories which point to an emergence of a soiety and a political system that can only be described as Nazi-esque. No two historical incidences of Fascist developments are identical. 

However, the idelogical pattern, the uses of law, violence, mass culture, dominant religion, patriotism, mainstream politics of difference (racism), democratic process, demagoguery, mobilization of public frustration towards political/strategic ends, etc. and the instrumental role of state organs, etc. 

Three years on, I stand by my choice of characterization of my own birthplace - once the anchor of my consciouness and existence as neo-Nazi "Buddhist" country and its Nazi-like racism and racist society and politics. 

It takes an extraordinary degree of delusions and self-deception to use the word 'progress' in reference to my country. 

The worst is as yet to come.



Buddhist And Muslim Relations Underly Southeast Asia Refugee Crisis

August 31, 2015 5:38 AM ET

Listen to the Story

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has a crisis. The ethnic Buddhists and minority Muslims fought in 2012, and that incident underlies the "boat people" crisis facing several Southeast Asian nations.


This next report begins with a woman who was driven from her home. She is a refugee and her story takes us inside a cause of a refugee crisis.


It's a conflict between ethnic groups in Myanmar. It's prompting members of one group to flee the country in small boats, at the risk of their lives.

INSKEEP: Those being driven out are known as the Rohingya. They are mostly Muslim, and that makes them a religious minority among Myanmar's majority Buddhists.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Anthony Kuhn visited Myanmar, and he visited with that woman who was forced to flee.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Zora Beguns (ph) sits surrounded by piles of red chilies, yellow curry powder and purple shallots. Her spice shop is in a Rohingyan internment camp. She's not allowed to leave the camp except under armed police escort. It's been that way since violence between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists broke out in 2012 after which many Rohingya fled or were forced into the camps. But the Rakhine, Zora Beguns complains, are free to go anywhere they like.

ZORA BEGUNS: (Through interpreter) I cannot return to my own neighborhood. I cannot go to the market or anywhere. But the Rakhine can come here openly. For that, I am angry at the Rakhine.

KUHN: Rakhine merchants still come to the internment camp to deliver their wares to their Rohingya counterparts. One of them is Noor Mohammad (ph), a former Rohingya Police Sergeant. He runs a small secondhand lumber business. He says that while he's already forgiven the Rakhine for the violence of 2012, his relations with his Rakhine suppliers remain a bit touchy.

NOOR MOHAMMAD: (Through interpreter) We've been living together and doing business here for more than 200 years. But to put it simply, the Rakhine did a bad thing - they looted and destroyed everything we had. So we have little trust right now, and we're not paying them up front. We pay them when they deliver the lumber.

KUHN: Could you live side-by-side with your old neighbors tomorrow, if you were allowed to go?

MOHAMMAD: (Through interpreter) If the authorities can guarantee our security, we have no problem living with the Rakhine. If the government lets us move back, we're ready to go.

KUHN: Myanmar's government says it's working to move the Rohingya out of the camps and into new homes. But it says it will take time to reintegrate the Rohingya and the Rakhine because there's still bad blood between them. Tin Maung Swe is executive secretary of the Rakhine State government.

TIN MAUNG SWE: We have to relocate 5,000 families to the separate house - not like a camp. We will construct a separate house for their normal life.

KUHN: Have you started building yet?

SWE: Yeah. Already, we have constructed 2,000 houses.

KUHN: That's a small fraction of the total number of Rohingya living in the camps, and it's unclear how long it could take to resettle them. The Rohingya cite government policy as part of the problem. It does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens. But Tin Maung Swe adds that the government is helping eligible Rohingya to apply for so-called green cards, which allows them to become naturalized immigrants. Abdul Sallam (ph) is a member of one of the Rohingya internment camp's governing committees. He says that the cards imply that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and that's not fair.

ABDUL SALLAM: (Through interpreter) We have no need to apply for green cards. Those are for foreigners who immigrate to Myanmar. We did not immigrate from another country. We were born and raised here.

KUHN: Abdul Sallam says the government is manipulating the Rohingya crisis for its own political ends. That's an argument I heard from both Rohingya and Rakhine people. It suggests that both groups share a distrust of the government. Tin Tun Aung (ph) is president of the Arakan National Network, a Rakhine civic group.

TIN TUN AUNG: (Through interpreter) There were enough border security forces in the Rakhine State to stop the violence in 2012, but they didn't. They only tried to reap political gains from it.

KUHN: Tin Tun Aung says that the government scores points with Buddhists by appearing to side with them against the Rohingya. And it scores points against opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi by portraying her as sympathetic to the Rohingya. Analysts point out, though, that any domestic political advantage Myanmar's government may have scored has come at a very high cost in terms of international public opinion.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News. Sittwe, Myanmar.

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Election commission rejects Muslim candidates en masse

By Ei Ei Toe Lwin | Tuesday, 01 September 2015

Nineteen election candidates in northern Rakhine State have been barred from running by the district sub-election commission, which called into question their residency status and the citizenship of their parents.

Eighteen Muslim candidates in northern Rakhine State have been rejected from running in the election on citizenship grounds – including one MP-elect from the 1990 election. Rakhine State had the largest number of candidates barred from standing, accounting for about two-fifths of the 49 candidates rejected nationally. (Thiri/The Myanmar Times)

Applications were submitted by 378 potential candidates representing a range of political parties across five districts in Rakhine State – Kyaukpyu, Sittwe, Maungdaw, Thandwe and Mrauk Oo.

Of these, 19 candidates were rejected in Maungdaw district, where the majority of the population is Muslim Rohingya, who are officially referred to as Bengalis.

“Most [of the disqualified nominees] are Bengalis,” district election officer U San Win Tun told The Myanmar Times yesterday.

Among them, nine are from the Democracy and Human Rights Party, six are from the National Development and Peace Party, one is from the National League for Democracy, and three are independents.

“We rejected them according to sections 8(a) and 10(e) of the elections laws,” said U San Win Tun. Section 8(a) says a person is ineligible to run for office if their parents were not citizens of Myanmar at the time of his birth, while section 10(e) stipulates that a candidate must have lived in the country for the past 10 years continuously.

U Kyaw Soe Aung, general secretary of the Democracy and Human Rights Party, said his party proposed 11 candidates: nine from Maungdaw and two from Sittwe.

“All of our Maungdaw candidates were rejected because the sub-commission said their parents were not citizens when they were born,” U Kyaw Soe Aung said, adding that the party has not received any information about its Sittwe candidates.

U Kyaw Min, one of the rejected Democracy and Human Rights Party candidates, said he did not understand the sub-election commission’s decision, especially since he was elected to parliament in the 1990 election.

U Kyaw Min won the seat of Buthidaung for the National Development and Democratic Party, and later became a member of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament. He has now been rejected from running for the Buthidaung seat in the Pyithu Hluttaw. “I think the commission rejected us under orders from the Union Election Commission because we are Rohingya,” he said.

“When I was a candidate in the 1990 election my parents were recognised as citizens, but now I have lost my citizenship rights under this so-called democratic government,” U Kyaw Min said, adding that all the rejected nominees plan to appeal and show citizenship evidence to the Rakhine State election commission. “We don’t want to lose our basic rights,” he said.

Meanwhile, NLD candidate U Tun Min Soe, who had planned to contest Rakhine State Amyotha Hluttaw constituency 2, which encompasses Maungdaw, was dismissed because he lived in Bangladesh in 2006.

On August 22, the election commission office in Maungdaw also sent a letter to U Shwe Maung – a sitting Pyithu Hluttaw representative who self-identifies as Rohingya – notifying him that he was ineligible to run because his parents were not citizens when he was born, a claim he denies.

Also known as Abdul Rezak, the MP said a Muslim candidate for the Amyotha Hluttaw, Daw Khin Khin Lwin, had also been disqualified.

The sub-commission said they had no specific intentions when they scrutinised the candidate selection process.

“The candidates were rejected according to the law. We sent letters to them on August 29. If they are dissatisfied with our decision, they can appeal to the state election commission within one week,” said U San Win Tun.


Nationalists mark anniversary of divisive state religion bill

By Aung Kyaw Min | Tuesday, 01 September 2015

Myanmar Buddhist devotees holding religious flags gather during a religious day ceremony Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in Yangon, Myanmar. Religious events are planned on Sunday across the country to commemorate the day when Myanmar’s then Prime Minister U Nu passed a law to declare Buddhism as the state religion 54 years ago. The law is no longer in place but the organizers said they want to commemorate the day so as to arouse national spirit. (AP Photo/Khin Maung

On August 30, nationalist Buddhists commemorated state religion day, commemorating 54 years since Myanmar’s post-independence parliament declared Buddhism the official religion.

The law never went into effect but devotees celebrate the unofficial state religion day annually on the full moon of Wagaung in late August, which marks when Buddha taught the Metta Sutta, or discourse on loving kindness.

Prime Minister U Nu attempted to enact the State Religion Promotion Act of 1961, which was approved by parliament, but contested by protesting Muslim and Christian groups who said the law would alienate minorities.

After the 1962 coup, General Ne Win’s junta did not introduce a state religion, members of the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, better known as Ma Ba Tha, said during the August 30 event. No government since then has made Buddhism the state religion.

“Of course, national religion day should be instituted and celebrated by the government. It is surprising that the government cannot lead or accept national religion day,” said U Sawpaka, a senior member of Ma Ba Tha.

The celebrations held in the rain at Yangon’s Kyaikkasan stadium were headed by the All Myanmar Theravada Dhamma Network, the Myanmar Patriotic Youth and the Nationalist Force.

At 1:25pm, the time when the national religion law was allegedly signed, the Buddhist devotees waved flags while reading the Metta Sutta.

U Maung Maung, chair of the Theravada Dhamma Network, said that he had to meet with Minister for Religious Affairs U Soe Win to negotiate permission to even hold the ceremony.

National religion day events were banned last year.

“The Union minister doesn’t want to mark the day because he says the [Kachin Independence Army] became rebels because of Buddhism becoming the national religion. I explained to him that that is incorrect history,” said U Maung Maung.

“But he also doesn’t want to allow the ceremony because international organisations are watching Myanmar. I explained to him that the ceremony is not about making instability for the country’s religious and racial affairs. It is just disclosing the true history to the people.”

Interfaith groups, however, rejected the calls for Buddhism to be made the state religion or have an official day aimed at promoting such a cause.

“I think there is no need,” said U Tin Thein Lwin, deputy chair of the Interfaith Friendship Association. “Our religious societies can freely hold religious festivals. If [a state religion] emerged, it would affect the harmony of communities.”

He added that politics and religion, especially “religious extremism”, should not be mixed.

U Panna Jota, a leading monk with Ma Ba Tha, said such national religious celebrations are necessary to pass Buddhism on to the next generation, as parents are “weak” at teaching Buddhism to their children.

Translation by Khin San May and Thiri Min Htun



Anti-Muslim Buddhist group moves toward Myanmar's mainstream

YANGON, Sept 1 | By Timothy Mclaughlin and Hnin Yadana Zaw

Swathed in crimson robes, 77-year-old Ashin Tilawkar Biwonsa shuffles through a crowded conference room with the help of an aide, his supporters standing in respect as he takes a seat at the head of a table under a portrait of his own image.

It is from here, at an unremarkable roadside monastery just outside the city of Yangon, that the abbot is propelling the radical Buddhist group he co-founded into the mainstream of Myanmar's politics.

Four bills drafted by his Committee for the Protection of Race and Religion, better known as Ma Ba Tha, have been passed by parliament and signed into law. Critics say the new laws effectively legalise discrimination against women and the country's minority Muslims.

Along with political clout, Ma Ba Tha is also ratcheting up its public image ahead of elections in November that will be the first free vote in Myanmar in the last 25 years. The radical Buddhist group has regular programming on one of the country's most popular satellite TV channels and has launched a magazine.

"There should be lawmakers in parliament who are reliable for the country," Ashin Tilawkar Biwonsa said in an interview. "There might be some people, especially Muslims, who are working on weakening Buddhism, so we need strong people for our religion."

Ma Ba Tha has shown no signs of contesting elections itself but says it will "remind" the public of candidates who opposed its four laws. These include Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), which is going head to head with conservatives and military figures in the polls.

Established two years ago, Ma Ba Tha sprang from the "969" movement, a loose collection of monks linked to a wave of violence against the country's Muslim minority in 2012 and 2013.

Senior Ma Ba Tha officials said the 969 movement had raised awareness about threats to Buddhism from a burgeoning Muslim population, but was disorganised and lacked leadership.

"It was (concerned with) only the symbols of Buddhism," said Ashin Tilawkar Biwonsa.

Now, a growing number of professionals are offering their expertise on everything from media relations to legislation, helping to shape Ma Ba Tha into a slick organisation with popular support and real political clout.

One such expert is Aye Paing, who spent two decades toiling as a lawyer in Myanmar's musty courtrooms before finding a dramatic new use for his legal skills.

Aye Paing and a team of Ma Ba Tha-linked lawyers drafted the protection of race and religion bills, the last of which was signed by President Thein Sein on Monday.

Lawyers, economists, IT experts and other professionals had made Ma Ba Tha "very efficient, systematic and legal" said Aye Paing, 52, who wears a black "taik pone", a short collarless jacket worn over a shirt that is common among Myanmar's legal professionals.

"We discuss, give advice and share our visions," he said.


In another sign of its growing influence, foreign diplomats regularly visit the group's monastery headquarters.

One was U.S. ambassador Derek Mitchell, who went there twice in May to discuss "the need for increased interfaith dialogue" and "the importance of keeping religion out of politics", according to a statement from the U.S. embassy in Yangon.

Myanmar's revered and influential monks led many pro-democracy protests during nearly half a century of military rule in the Buddhist-majority nation. But after a quasi-civilian, reformist government took power in 2011, some outspoken monks claimed Islam was eclipsing Buddhism and weakening the country.

Now, Ashin Tilawkar Biwonsa says Ma Ba Tha has 250 offices nationwide. He couldn't estimate how many supporters it has, but in June more than 1,500 people attended the group's annual conference in Yangon.

Ma Ba Tha recently struck a deal with Myanmar's popular satellite television provider, SkyNet, to broadcast its sermons.

The broadcasts would help the public "know the truth" about Ma Ba Tha, said Khine Khine Tun, 25, an articulate former teacher and interpreter who heads the group's international relations department.

Through media training courses, she said, she has learnt to speak to visitors with a smile, confounding expectations of the abrasive and sometimes confrontational style for which the group is known.

The television deal bolsters an information campaign that already includes a bi-monthly magazine with a circulation of 50,000 that contains sermons delivered by Ma Ba Tha monks nationwide.


In contrast to long-delayed legislation on banking, mining and property, the Ma Ba Tha-backed "race and religion" bills moved swiftly through parliament.

One bill requires some women to wait at least three years between pregnancies. Another requires Buddhist women to seek official permission before marrying a non-Buddhist man.

This will stop Muslim men "torturing and forcing (Buddhist women) to change religion," Ashin Tilawkar Biwonsa said.

Suu Kyi and her NLD opposed the laws. But government officials and politicians rarely criticise Ma Ba Tha, because they either sympathise with the group's views or fear upsetting its many supporters during an election year.

"They are afraid of Ma Ba Tha," said May Sabi Phyu, the director of the Gender Equality Network, a women's empowerment group that opposed the bills.

Any plans to sway voters would be "violating the law," said NLD spokesman Nyan Win, adding: "It's the government's responsibility to control and stop them." (Additional reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall in YANGON; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan)


Myanmar President Signs Off on Law Seen as Anti-Muslim

Myanmar's president on Monday signed into law the last of four controversial bills championed by radical Buddhists but decried by rights groups as aimed at discriminating against the country's Muslim minority.

Myanmar, which will hold its first democratic national poll in more than two decades on Nov. 8, has seen a flowering of anti-Muslim hate speech since the military gave up full power and opened up politics and the economy in 2011.

President Thein Sein signed the Monogamy Bill after it was passed by parliament on August 21, Zaw Htay, a senior official at the president's office, told Reuters. The law was briefly sent back to parliament for review before being signed.

The bill sets punishments for people who have more than one spouse or live with an unmarried partner other than the spouse.

The government denies it is aimed at Muslims, estimated to make up about 5 percent of the population, and some of whom practice polygamy.

The president also signed two other laws, which restrict religious conversion and interfaith marriage, on August 26, Zaw Htay said.

The measures are part of four "Race and Religion Protection Laws" championed by the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, or Ma Ba Tha.

The laws were dangerous for Myanmar, said an official of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"They set out the potential for discrimination on religious grounds and pose the possibility for serious communal tension," said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.

"Now that these laws are on the books, the concern is how they are implemented and enforced."

In May, the president signed a Ma Ba Tha-backed population control bill that forces some women to space three years between each birth.

The monk-led group has stoked sentiment against Muslims, whom it has accused of trying to take over Myanmar and outbreed its Buddhist majority.

Hundreds of people have been killed in flare-ups of religious violence in Myanmar. In 2012, an incident in Rakhine State led to the displacement of more than 140,000 people, most of them members of the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority.

(Additional reporting and writing by Aubrey Belford in Yangon; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)


In Myanmar, Rohingya candidates barred from election

John Zaw, Mandalay
August 31, 2015

September 1, 2015

Fifteen Rohingya candidates have been barred from running in Myanmar's upcoming elections, adding to fears it is part of the mass disenfranchisement of a long-embattled ethnic minority group ahead of key Nov 8. polls.

The country's election commission ruled Aug. 29 that the 15 parliamentary hopefuls from the Democracy and Human Rights Party, which is predominantly Rohingya, were ineligible to run because their parents were not citizens when they were born.

"The decision does not make sense and it lacks a detailed explanation," Kyaw Min, the party's chairman and one of the 15 disqualified candidates, told in an Aug. 31 interview.

The move comes despite the fact that Kyaw Min, a former school teacher, secured a seat during Myanmar's 1990 election, which was won by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party before the military junta refused to recognize the results.

Kyaw Min said his party planned on contesting the election commission ruling, but said he feared it was part of an attempt "to target the specific Rohingya community," ensuring the Muslim minority group would not play a significant role in the Nov. 8 election.

The ruling comes after Shwe Maung, a prominent Rohingya member of parliament with the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, was recently barred from running in the election because his parents were not Myanmar citizens when he was born. Nevertheless, Shwe Maung's father was a career policeman and Shwe Maung himself ran and won a seat in Rakhine's Buthidaung constituency in 2010.

Pending the result of the planned appeal, the commission's ruling leaves the Democracy and Human Rights Party with only three remaining candidates out of the 18 it had put forward to run in Yangon, the country's largest city, and Rakhine state.

An ethnic Rohingya Muslim child looks at boats at a refugee camp outside the city of Sittwe in Myanmar's Rakhine state in May. Election officials recently declared 15 Rohingya candidates would be barred from running in November elections. (Photo by Ye Aung Thu/AFP)

'They can't vote'

Rights groups have long warned of a mass disenfranchisement of persecuted Rohingya Muslims ahead of the election, which is seen by many observers as a test of the country's quasi-civilian government's democratic reforms.

Earlier this year, the government effectively disenfranchised about 700,000 people, mostly Rohingya, when it declared holders of “white cards” ineligible to vote. The cards had been issued as temporary identification documents, and white-card holders had been permitted to vote in the 2010 election.

During that election, the quasi-civilian government led by President Thein Sein did particularly well in areas with many white-card holders, including Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships. This year, however, Buddhist-led groups protested against the policy and Thein Sein announced that white-card holders would not be allowed to vote.

Likely to benefit from such moves are candidates supported by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, who have long-standing enmity toward the Rohingya and a distrust of the national government.

The Arakan National Party comprises predominantly ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and is expected to win a majority of the state's allotted seats in parliament. Khine Pyi Soe, the party's vice president, said his party has urged its candidates to file an official complaint if non-citizens attempt to contest the election.

"For those who are eligible for citizenship under the 1982 citizenship law, they can vote in elections but for those who aren't eligible, they can't vote," he said in an interview.

The government and the Buddhist Rakhine community do not recognize Rohingya as one of the country's official ethnic groups, and instead require them to identify as "Bengali" because they are often viewed as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Under the 1982 citizenship law, any path to citizenship would require identifying as Bengali.

In August, Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights, expressed "grave concern" about the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of potential voters.

"More must and can be done to address the legal status of the Rohingya and the institutionalized discrimination faced by this community," she said in a statement.


NLD Blocked Muslim Candidates to Appease Ma Ba Tha: Party Member

A prominent member of the NLD claims the opposition party has succumbed to pressure from Buddhist nationalists by refusing to field a single Muslim candidate in upcoming elections

RANGOON — A prominent member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) claims the opposition party has succumbed to growing pressure from Buddhist nationalists by refusing to field a single Muslim candidate in Burma’s upcoming general elections. 

Ko Ni, a well-known Muslim lawyer and opposition party member, said the NLD leadership intentionally excluded over a dozen Muslims from its candidate list—presented to the country’s election commission with over 1,000 names earlier this month—to placate Buddhist hardliners. 

“There are no Muslim candidates,” Ko Ni told The Irrawaddy. “Around 15-16 Muslim people applied to be candidates but the central committee did not choose them.” 

He added that while the party leadership did not offer a formal explanation for its decision, it appeared to be linked to the rise of an aggressive nationalist movement, the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, whose supporters have been keen to brand the opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi as anti-Buddhist. 

The association, known locally by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha, has spearheaded efforts to impose fresh legislation discriminating against Burma’s Muslim minority and repeatedly rallied against political parties deemed “unpatriotic.” 

“If the NLD chose some Muslim candidates, those campaigning groups can point out that the NLD is a ‘Muslim party’,” said Ko Ni, who stressed he was not speaking in any official capacity as a party member. 

But the decision has provoked dismay among many of the NLD’s Muslim supporters, who feel alienated and marginalized by the pro-democracy opposition party. 

“The NLD is a democratic party,” said Mya Aye, a former political prisoner and prominent Muslim member of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, who briefly sought NLD candidacy earlier this year. “Democratic means accepting multiculturalism but the NLD didn’t accept Muslim candidates. That is very wrong. Muslim people feel discriminated [against] by the NLD.” 

Mya Aye suggested the move could lead to a number of Muslims abandoning the opposition party in November’s election,turning instead to independent candidates. One Rangoon-based Muslim resident, who asked not to be named, said he was losing faith in the party but he remained wary of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). 

“I never supported the USDP—it is a military legacy and not good for Muslims—so I have [previously] supported the NLD,” he said. “But now I am thinking I may support some individual in my constituency.” 

Sources say that those excluded rank among some of the most prominent figures within the party and the broader democracy movement. 

Among those whose candidacy applications were rejected are Sithu Maung, a former political prisoner and founding member of the Confederation of University Student Unions; Myat Thu, a veteran of the 88 Generation student group; Win Mya Mya, a leading member of the NLD’s Mandalay Division office jailed during the 2007 Saffron Uprising; and Kyi Lwin, chairman of the party’s Rangoon Eastern District office, according to party insiders. 

“I don’t want to comment directly, but I can say that there were no Muslim candidates selected by the NLD,” Sithu Maung told The Irrawaddy. 

Muslims sell food at a mosque in the Shan State capital of Taunggyi.
Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters

Sithu Maung confirmed the exclusion of Win Mya Mya and Kyi Lwin, neither of whom could not be reached for comment on Friday. 

If the NLD chose some Muslim candidates, those campaigning groups can point out that the NLD is a ‘Muslim party’.” 

Mya Aye told The Irrawaddy that he preemptively withdrew his candidacy application at the end of July because the NLD was not cooperating with the country’s ethnic groups, reflecting a trend of growing disillusion with the party leadership. 

“Ninety percent of Muslims are now upset with the NLD,” said Myo Win of the Burmese Muslim Association. “Even Muslims inside the NLD are disappointed.” 


By AUNG HLA TUN / REUTERS | 25 Aug 2015 

The NLD is expected to make significant gains in the Nov. 8 elections, hoped to be the first free and fair poll since the party’s landslide victory in 1990 was annulled by the military junta. A number of Muslim candidates were reportedly overlooked in the 1990 election as well,a reflection of deep-seated religious and ethnic divides in the Buddhist-majority country. 

Religious tensions and outbursts of violence have escalated since the end of military rule in 2011, threatening to overshadow Burma’s landmark election. 

Last week, prominent Rohingya Muslim lawmaker and former USDP member Shwe Maung was struck off the candidacy list after the Union Election Commission determined his parents were not Burmese citizens at the time of his birth. Hundreds of thousands of voters from the beleaguered Rohingya minority—who had been permitted to cast ballots in the 2010 election—were stripped of their voting rights earlier this year. 

Some activists fear that members of the NLD leadership, most of whom came of age under the xenophobic dictatorship of Gen. Ne Win, tacitly agree with Ma Ba Tha’s virulent anti-Muslim sentiments. 

“I’m not sure yet how much racism there is at the NLD top level because the majority of those people were[educated] under the socialist era,” said Myo Win. “I am not sure about [Suu Kyi] and who the decisions go through. She is a Nobel laureate and human rights defender. But I think she is now a power player.” 

“We have no hope yet—neither for the NLD nor the USDP—to change the policy for minorities. They are thinking [about] their own power,” he added. 

The party has also come under fire for excluding numerous popular figures, including 88 Generation Student Leader Ko Ko Gyi and independent Rangoon Division lawmaker Nyo Nyo Thin, from its candidate list. But Suu Kyi herself has dismissed the backlash as a “blessing in disguise” and urged people to vote for the party instead of hinging their support on individual NLD candidates. 

When contacted by The Irrawaddy, NLD central executive committee member and party spokesperson Nyan Win denied that there were no Muslims representing the party. 

“There is no discrimination,” he said, before admitting that he could not name any Muslim candidates “off the top of my head”. 

Nyan Win clarified in a later conversation that he was unaware of specific decisions on candidate applications, which were ultimately decided upon by the party’s central executive committee. He denied that the party’s candidate decisions had been influenced by Ma Ba Tha. 

“We never accept these Ma Ba Tha requests,” he said. 

Nonetheless, in the last year the NLD has at times sought to placate Buddhist nationalist sentiment, including on one occasion an incident involving Ko Ni and Mya Aye. 

The party cancelled a public event in Rangoon to mark Union Day in February last year, after a group of 40 nationalist monks objected to the planned inclusion of the pair on a discussion panel. 

The following week, both men were forced to withdraw from a literary event in Mandalay, after complaints from the 969 Buddhist nationalist group led by senior Ma Ba Tha member U Wirathu. At the time, Mya Aye suggested that the complaints were motivated by the 88 Generation and the NLD’s pledge to cooperate on a constitutional reform campaign. 

Ko Ni, who is adamant that no Muslim candidates had been nominated by the NLD, still defended the decision as a political necessity and urged voters to rally behind the party. 

“We need to understand this situation and support the NLD,” he said. “If the NLD gets a lot of seats in parliament, at that time we can change the current situation and promote freedom of religion.” 

At present, no political party has an official policy on the representation of religious minorities in the diverse country, where Muslims are estimated to comprise between 4-10 percent of the population. 

An NLD lawmaker previously told The Irrawaddy that his party had no Muslim MPs in the current Union Parliament, while only three of the USDP’s 336 Union Parliament lawmakers belonged to the Muslim faith. 

It is not yet clear how many Muslim candidates, if any, the USDP is fielding in November’s election. 

Additional reporting by Moe Myint 


​Myanmar's backsliding leads to doubt about U.S. diplomacy strategy

The State Department's second-ranking diplomat flew to Myanmar in May to urge the country's leaders not to adopt a tough "population-control" law apparently aimed at halting growth of persecuted ethnic minorities.

President Thein Sein listened politely to Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. And hours after Blinken departed Yangon, he signed the bill into law.

Myanmar's leaders have repeatedly rebuffed U.S. appeals this year despite a public commitment to reform that led the White House to restore full diplomatic relations in 2012, and to drop most sanctions on the authoritarian government.

Southeast Asia refugee crisis has reached 'alarming level,' meeting hears

Administration officials consider the diplomatic opening to the long-isolated nation, also known as Burma, a marquee achievement in President Obama's first term. In her presidential race, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to portray the thaw as one of her top diplomatic accomplishments.

But three years later, progress is coming slowly in some areas and there is clear backsliding in others. Critics say the administration was hasty in chalking Myanmar, a resource-rich country wedged between India, China and Thailand, on the win list.

"The administration certainly declared victory too soon," said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch.

After decades with one of the worst human rights records in the world, the military-dominated leadership in Napyidaw, the capital, eased its grip in 2011, freeing 1,300 political prisoners, allowing the opposition more seats in the parliament and permitting more free speech.

But the reforms preceded another crackdown. In recent months, Thein Sein's government has blocked lawmakers' attempts to liberalize the constitution, forced a top reformer from leadership of the ruling party and stepped up arrests of opponents and journalists. Analysts worry that the military will reassert control before scheduled parliamentary elections in November.

As Myanmar rights official, an Elvis impersonator sings different tune

Critics also cite the harsh treatment of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group of 1 million that's become a target of violent attacks by Buddhists and an ethnic cleansing campaign since the country began its transition.

Thousands of Rohingya have fled squalid camps in boats, setting off a regional migration crisis and undermining international support for Myanmar's government.

Opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, America's chief ally in Myanmar, has declined to condemn the government's tough treatment of the Rohingya.

Obama administration officials continue to press for reforms. Top U.S. officials regularly visit, including Obama and Clinton, who have each gone there twice.

Though "very significant challenges" remain, "the progress is real and it's significant," Blinken told reporters during his May visit.

Myanmar's circumstances have become part of the debate over Obama's assertions that the United States can do more to reform countries by opening diplomatic and commercial ties, than by isolating them, an argument it recently made when it restored diplomatic ties with Cuba after more than half a century.

In the opening to Myanmar, the administration retained some sanctions but front-loaded most of the rewards. They restored diplomatic relations, dropped most economic penalties, began direct U.S. aid, and took steps to allow U.S. companies and international financial institutions to operate there.

"It was a gutsy move," said Jonah Blank, an Asia expert at the nonpartisan Rand Corp. think tank and a former Senate Democratic staffer.

Human rights advocates contend that the administration should have kept more leverage to stop the government from backsliding on reforms.

"They've been generous with their rhetoric, but they haven't used the sticks they have to put pressure on the government," said Simon Billenness, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, a nonprofit advocacy group.

U.S. lawmakers, many of whom supported the diplomatic opening, are now beginning to call for the use of more penalties.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), its ranking minority member, sent a letter to the administration Aug. 11 arguing that Myanmar's human rights abuses "demand a strong response."

They urged Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew to sanction individual officials.

Supporters of the diplomacy say it has helped pull Myanmar away from its most important patron, China, and brought it closer to the United States and its allies. Administration officials deny that was ever a goal.

But Blank, of Rand Corp., says the policy has scored an important win by that standard. Although Myanmar's trade with the United States is still not large, its economy is expanding and it is increasingly interconnected with its region and major powers.

"This was one of the few remaining hermit kingdoms in the world," he said. "Now it's not going to be part of that club."

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

The Wall Street Journal

Buzz over post-sanctions Myanmar fades for many U.S. investors

August 31, 2015 

Many people thought this would become one of the hottest new markets for American capital a few years ago, when the country began opening to the West after decades of military rule.

Instead, Myanmar has been a letdown for many investors—especially Americans. Many have already pulled out after opportunities failed to materialize.

It was “not worth risking our reputation” in Myanmar, said Ryan Manicom, a head of business development for Holloman Corp., a Houston oil & gas services firm. His company shut its country office this year after it took longer than expected for the government to open more natural gas to foreign players. Holloman also worried about local safety standards, he said.

Disenchantment with the business climate comes as concerns are spreading about Myanmar’s political future.

Although officials say a national election planned for early November will be free and fair, doubts have deepened since the main military-backed party this month purged a presidential hopeful who was linked to democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ms. Suu Kyi is barred by Myanmar’s constitution from becoming president, even though she is widely regarded as the most popular politician.

Numerous construction projects for new hotels, offices and condominium buildings in Yangon have stalled, as investors wait for clearer investment rules and to see how the dust settles after the November election.

Officials in Myanmar, also known as Burma, say the government is learning how to implement market overhauls and that the investment climate will improve.

This “is the transition period from military government to democracy government,” and from a centrally planned economy to a market economy, said Soe Thane, minister in charge of economic affairs in the office of President Thein Sein.
Still, disappointment with the way Myanmar has played out since its former military junta stepped down in 2010 is palpable among many U.S. business leaders.

The U.S. began easing sanctions—first imposed in the 1990s—in 2012. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on U.S. companies to “invest in Burma and do it responsibly,” adding, “let’s all work together to create jobs, opportunity, and support reform.”

The economy has grown relatively rapidly since then and people have gained more civic freedoms, including the right to protest. A more robust media developed as harsh censorship laws were lifted.

Yet leaders dragged their feet on fully opening some sectors that Western investors wanted, including financial services and real estate. Officials say they’ve had to strike a balance between protecting domestic enterprises and welcoming foreign companies.

Other challenges include Yangon rents that spiked to levels on par with Singapore, one of the world’s richest cities, because of a shortage of modern space. Lack of financial services like wire transfers forced companies to bring cash in by truck or air.

Washington, meanwhile, has in many ways made it hard for U.S. firms to do business in Myanmar, even as it encouraged U.S. companies to go there.

The Obama administration added requirements that forced U.S. firms to make extensive public disclosures if they invested more than $500,000. It also kept some sanctions in place in case the government backtracked on its promised overhauls.

The U.S. Treasury maintained its blacklist prohibiting Americans from doing business with an estimated 200 individuals and entities linked to the former military junta. Any U.S. firm needing a local partner had to make sure no one involved was on the list.

Eric Rose, a U.S. lawyer who opened a branch of his firm, Herzfeld & Rubin, in Yangon, says about half of Myanmar’s economy is controlled by the military and another 20% is dominated by blacklisted cronies, effectively making 70% of Myanmar off-limits.

Wary of Washington’s mixed signals, American banks kept blocking some transactions involving the country. Citibank Inc. and others made exploratory trips but decided not to do more there.

Six foreign banks have branches in Myanmar and dozens more have representative offices, but none are American.

A Citigroup spokesperson says it has assisted clients making payments into Myanmar “after ensuring full compliance” with U.S. rules and will keep monitoring the situation.

Europe, by contrast, lifted all its sanctions by 2013.

Carlsberg A/S and Heineken NV invested in breweries there, while Nestlé SA and Unilever PLC set up manufacturing plants. Adidas AG and Hennes & Mauritz AB are sourcing garments from the country. Britain’s BG Group is investing more than a billion dollars in oil exploration with an Australian partner.

A few big U.S. companies have entered, including Colgate-Palmolive Co. and Coca-Cola Co., which intends to spend up to $200 million here over the next few years. Gap Inc. has started sourcing garments from Myanmar and a two-story KFC outlet opened in June.

These U.S. multinational brands have large compliance teams to guide them in extreme-frontier locations. As early movers some were able to lock up relationships with local partners who aren’t on U.S. blacklists.

But Rehan Khan, Coca-Cola’s country manager, said the company is still having trouble delivering its product in many places because of supply-chain problems.

Gap has kept its sourcing small in Myanmar, limiting it to two factories outside Yangon. It sources “more than 100 times” more clothing from Vietnam, a spokesperson said.

The U.S. has declined to lift import duties, meaning companies like Gap have to pay as much as 17% in tax when bringing goods home. The European Union in 2013 granted Myanmar products duty-free and quota-free access to Europe.

Officially, U.S. firms have invested just $2 million in Myanmar since 2011, according to Myanmar government statistics, though that doesn’t include an undetermined amount spent through regional offices in Singapore.

China has invested $5.2 billion since 2011. The U.K. has spent $1.3 billion and the Netherlands $312 million.

“It is almost like (Washington is) telling us to invest with a wink and a nod,” said Dave Peck, the American chief executive of Arrow Technologies, a Singapore-based company that sells laboratory equipment in Myanmar. He said he has handled his business through a non-Western bank.

A U.S. Treasury Department spokesperson said remaining sanctions aren’t intended to hurt American business but to “put pressure on bad actors.”

It isn’t unusual for investors to overhype markets when they open to Western capital. Many foreigners abandoned Vietnam when it failed to live up to expectations in the 1980s and 1990s, though many global firms eventually located there.

Myanmar has also proved frustrating for some.

Holloman of Houston set up shop in 2013 when Myanmar was signaling plans to open more natural gas to foreign players. But the government delayed. When authorities awarded exploration blocks in 2014, the global market was facing an energy glut. Many international firms Holloman hoped to team with lost interest, leaving little for Holloman to do.

Mr. Rose, the lawyer, said he’s struggling to keep his business afloat.

A balding 60-year-old who wears a pin of the Myanmar and American flags on his suit, he started planning the venture when he heard Ms. Suu Kyi was freed from house arrest in 2010.

Mr. Rose, who fled to the U.S. from Communist Romania in his youth, had worked for American Standard Brands when it introduced bathroom fixtures into Myanmar before U.S. sanctions in the 1990s.

He assembled a 65-page budget to start a law office in the country and convinced Herzfeld & Rubin partners to go in 50-50. He hired a former armed rebel who had a law degree from Indiana, and the chief legal counsel of Ms. Suu Kyi’s political party.

He kicked off his venture with a party at a five-star hotel attended by ambassadors and a famous Myanmar singer.

Business was initially robust, he said. Clients included American firms exploring opportunities and a pair of New Yorkers injured in a Myanmar plane crash.

“There was just more and more good news every day,” Mr. Rose recalled. “I felt like a guy who just bought a new car, and keeps seeing reviews of how amazing the car is in magazines.”

Several months later, business “literally fell off a cliff,” he said. American firms were losing interest. He laid off half his staff of 15 after sinking $200,000 of his own money into the venture.

In May, Mr. Rose said, he got a reprieve when he signed an American not-for-profit as a client.

Still, he’s recalibrating his expectations.

“U.S. companies are severely handicapped by our government’s unclear policy” in Myanmar, he said. “When even the banks stay away…our clients will stay away.”


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