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Friday, July 1, 2011

Politics of Arakan

The modern-day politics of Arakan can have centred on the its struggle for greater autonomy, a goal pursued for over 200 years since the Burmese conquered Mrauk-U, and the last Kingdom of Arakan in 1784. There are two main schools of thought on the issue of autonomy in Arakanese politics. One is rooted nationalistic principles and champions the belief that Arakan should once again become an independent sovereign nation. The current majority position, however, is to support a federalist system in which Arakan would achieve self-government but continue to exist as a state in the Union of Burma.

Regardless of which position they support, at present the overarching objective of Arakan’s political thinkers and activists is to bring an end to the persistent suffering to which Burma’s current military regime subjects the citizens of Arakan. This will be achieved through education and spreading awareness, both in Arakan State and across the globe.

Arakanese political organisations can also be divided based on where they are based: some attempt to operate inside Burma in spite of the regime’s overwhelming political repression, while others base themselves in neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Bangladesh and India. There are still more political and revolutionary support groups in the United States, Japan, the Netherlands, Malaysia, England and Singapore. However, generally the most prominent political groups operate both inside and outside of Arakan / Burma.

The national uprising in 1988 and the 2007 Saffron Revolution led to the exile of prominent political figures from Arakan and inspire many young people to get involved in the democracy movement. In November 1988, politically motivated Arakanese students formed the All Arakan Students’ Union (AASU) in Wakhetchoung Camp on the Burma-Bangladesh Border.

Later, the AASU united under the banner of All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF, Arakan regiment,) to forge solidarity with other ethnic student groups and attempt to overthrow the military regime cooperatively. After this merger hundreds of Arakanese students joined the military wing of the organisation, along with a further 5,000 students from around Burma. Many of these young Arakanese were later killed in battles and sea, fighting the SPDC with the Arakan Army (AA).

In 1994, the Arakan regiment of the ABSDF founded the Arakanese Students’ Congress (ASC) in New Delhi, India, to fight the junta using non-violent methods. In October 1995 a students’ and youths’ conference was held in Bangkok, Thailand. All those present at the conference were Arakanese student and youth representatives from Bangladesh, India and Thailand. By a unanimous decision, the All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress (AASYC) was formed on October 6th, 1995.

Military objectives were also a high priority at the time, and the Arakan New Generations’ Army (ANGA) was formed too. The aims of the organization with regard to the nation’s revolutionary forces were as follows:

1. To support the political vanguard for solidarity of all Arakan national revolutionary forces or political parties which are sincerely trying to form a singular revolutionary army and which will cooperate in any possible way to eliminate hold-ups effectively in order to achieve our national goals
2. To continue to endeavour for the unity of all national revolutionary forces on the grounds that the organization was founded in an effort to unite all national forces
3. To abolish the current AASYC and its armed wing, and fully support any Party that is formed from an agreement between all Arakanese national forces to unify and collaborate for common ends.

1997 was a year of great progress for the AASYC. The first big success was the signing of the ‘Mae Tha Raw Hta Agreement’ along with all of Burma’s leading political and armed opposition groups. On that day, the 15 signatories committed themselves to ten common policies which have since been at the heart of the movement for a democratic Federal Union of Burma. Later that year, in order to support the national armed struggle, the AASYC merged with the National United Party of Arakan (NUPA) and its armed wing, the Arakan Army (AA).

Before NUPA, the National United Front of Arakan (NUFA) had been formed from the Arakan National Liberation Party (ANLP), the Arakan Communist Party (ACP), the Arakan Independence Organization (AIO), the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) and the Tribal National Party (TNP). NUFA later became NUPA with the purpose of changing ‘from a front to a party’. In 1991, the Arakan Army (AA) under the leadership of Bo Raza accepted the leadership role of NUFA. In order to make the transition ‘from a front to a party” the leading members of each group discussed and signed an agreement to abolish each mother-organisation and establish a singular party. On January 5th, 1994, all of the organizations except ALP, were abolished and NUPA was formed. Then on January 9th, the AA was formed by uniting ANGA and the other Arakan armed forces.

On March 4th, 1997, in accordance with its own policy the AASYC was also abolished and incorporated into NUPA, giving it “national revolutionary” status. After the assassinations of Bo Raza and other leaders in February 1998, there was turmoil within the Party; factions emerged and NUPA became weaker. Following the division of NUPA, AASYC remained stagnant for a long period; its Indian branch, however, continued its activities without being drawn into NUPA’s feuding.

In the 1990 parliamentary elections, the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) received overwhelming support from the Arakanese people, winning 11 seats out of 26 in Arakan State. It was the third-most supported party in all of Burma, behind the National League for Democracy (NLD) and Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD).

Despite or possibly due to its success, the ALD was unlawfully deregistered when it opposed notification 1/90 of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Some of the party’s leaders went into exile to attempt to continue pursuing the mandate assigned to them by the Arakanese people; in 1994, they formed the Arakan League for Democracy (in exile) at Harabun in Bangladesh.

Due to increasing pressure from the SPDC and leadership crises both inside and outside the country, the ALD in exile is at present largely inactive, and unable to offer adequate guidance or leadership to the people of Arakan. The weakness of what has historically been the strongest party in the Arakanese political scene is reflective of the general weakness of the democratic movement in; currently very few Arakanese organisations are actively involved in the Burmese struggle for democracy.
copy from AASYC


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