NLD cofounder Tin Oo plays to Rakhine fears

U Tin Oo, the Emeritus Chairman of the opposition National League for Democracy, made a quick campaign stop in the Rakhine State capital of Sittwe yesterday in a bid to attract voters before Sunday’s polls.

About 150 people, including some of the party’s candidates running in the state, attended the assembly held at a restaurant along Sittwe’s waterfront – a far cry from the tens of thousands that turned out at a rally held by NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi last Sunday in Yangon.

The NLD is widely expected to fare poorly at the polls in Rakhine, where the ethno-nationalist Arakan National Party enjoys immense popularity. U Tin Oo attempted to persuade voters that the NLD would take ethnic Rakhine grievances into account, countering a perception that his party that only represents the interests of Myanmar’s ethnic-Bamar majority.

“I led the Tatmadaw troops that drove out the East Pakistanis that invaded Rakhine State. I defended the islands at the mouth of the Naf River so they would remain the land of the Rakhine people,” he said. “Now, I promise the Rakhine people that I’ll defend your interests and the territorial integrity of Rakhine State.”

U Tin Oo served as the Commander-in-Chief of the Tatmadaw from 1974 to 1976. He was forced to step down and was subsequently imprisoned on treason charges. After his release from prison in 1980, he received a law degree, and became a founding member of the NLD in 1988. He spent more than three years in Rakhine during his military service.

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The NLD has faced accusations nationwide that it unduly favours Muslims, despite the fact that the party has fielded no Muslim candidates in the upcoming election. Its leadership, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has remained largely silent with regards to the plight of Rakhine’s unloved Rohingya Muslim minority, who are denied citizenship rights under Myanmar’s stringent 1982 citizenship law.

Rohingyas were allowed to vote in the 2010 elections, and largely supported the military-derived USDP to the detriment of Rakhine nationalist parties. The vast majority have been barred from voting in the November 8 election, a development that should bolster the number of seats the ANP wins in both the state and union-level hluttaws.

U Tin Oo’s visit to northern Rakhine follows a visit by Daw Aung Suu Kyi to the southern part of the state in mid-October, where she faced tough questions from Rakhine voters on ethnic and religious issues.

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