The Arakan Youth Conference wants the young generation to have a 30 percent quota in the Rakhine Hluttaw and a bigger say in charting the state’s future.
By SU MYAT MON | FRONTIER
APPREHENSION over the future of Rakhine State has prompted participants at its biggest youth conference to consider lobbying for nearly a third of the seats in its parliament to give young people a bigger say in development and other issues.
The proposal for a 30 percent youth quota in the state assembly came at the recent Arakan Youth Conference, at which delegates expressed disappointment that Rakhine politicians were not interesting in involving young people in decision-making. Youths currently make up just one percent of representatives in the state parliament.
The gathering focused on development as the key to addressing problems in Rakhine State, which has been the focus of international attention due to the Rohingya crisis. Despite considerable oil and gas riches, Rakhine is one of the nation’s poorest and least developed states or regions.
The 2014 census showed that Rakhine has a population of nearly 3.2 million people, including just over a million Rohingya who were not enumerated because they refused to be identified as “Bengali”. Most residents of Rakhine, 83 percent, live in rural areas and the census also showed that the state has the nation’s highest unemployment rate, at 10.4 percent, after Kayin State (7.5 percent) and Mon State (6.2 percent).
The conference at Taunggup from May 1 to 5, which attracted more than 400 young Rakhine from throughout the state and elsewhere in Myanmar, follows the inaugural AYC gathering in Manaung last year. The AYC defines “youth” as between 18 and 35 years.
AYC spokesperson Ko Myo San Aung said the May event’s main themes were Rakhine State development, youth involvement in building the future, and cooperation between the authorities and youth organisations.
The event addressed four main topics – education, politics, employment and drug abuse –and organisers expect to draft policy papers on each topic over the next three months, although they may take longer.
A draft policy on politics calls for the building of a federal democratic state and for young Rakhine to formulate youth policy, have a voice in all aspects of development and to develop Rakhine State’s international trade potential.
The conference is not aligned with any political party and is neither an organisation nor a formal network, but Myo San Aung said it may be more formalised later. The next conference is likely to be held in three years, he added.
Ko Min Thein Zan, one of 12 organisers of the AYC, said it was essential for the young generation to become involved in parliamentary politics and be able to contribute to the state’s development.
“They [politicians] are only interested in using youth to support them during election campaigns, but at the decision-making level, young people are not included,” Min Thein Zan told Frontier in a phone interview on June 8.
“This is one reason why the conference discussed setting a 30 percent quota for youth representation in parliament,” he said.
One of the flaws that young people had observed in older politicians was that they over-looked issues that could be effectively addressed by working together with others, he said.
Some older politicians also had extreme views, which was why politics in Rakhine was different to that in other states and regions.
Min Thein Zan, who is from Buthidaung Township in northern Rakhine, said that when communal violence erupted in 2012, authorities and community leaders should have responded with measures aimed at preventing the situation from escalating. Instead, he said, they were more eager to demonstrate their nationalist credentials.
“Because of their concerns as nationalists they did not do what should have been done and this is one reason why Rakhine has lost so much, with many people worrying if their future is secure, and about job opportunities and education, too,” he said.
“As a Rakhine I do not feel secure because the economic situation, education and employment are not easy for us.”
Min Thein Zan said young people in Rakhine were being brainwashed by the extremism and nationalism of the older generation.
It was very important to change the mindset of those members of the older generation who espouse the most extreme views.
“The younger generation in Rakhine needs to be getting the right message in their minds,” he said, adding that some were being “brainwashed” into supporting nationalist movements.
Myo San Aung said the state has been overwhelmed by problems, including the effects of the crisis in northern Rakhine, and this had left its youth feeling more vulnerable and less confident than those in other states and regions.
He said the main problem in Rakhine was regarded as being religion-based discrimination and violence, but there was a complex history underpinning the conflict.
Amid the crisis, the youth of Rakhine had been left behind without a voice to express their concerns, Myo San Aung told Frontier in a phone interview on June 6.
“I increasingly feel that most Rakhine youth are suffering from insecurity because of the deep-rooted problems affecting their lives,” he said.
It was time for the state’s youth to take responsibility and become involved in as many as possible of the state’s development sectors, because it was clear that government officials and parliamentarians would not bring about positive change.
“Rakhine youth need to be playing a greater role in the state’s development, partly because of its paucity of human resources,” Myo San Aung said. “Rakhine youth cannot be left behind.”
Ko Min Than Soe, a member of the Mrauk-U Youth Association, said he hoped the younger generation could focus more on the causes of the conflict in Rakhine and come up with solutions for how to address them.
He is participating in the Kintha Foundation’s Peace and Development Initiative in Sittwe, the state capital, and says more such peace centres should be opened in Rakhine.
The more young people that can access such courses, the sooner peace and stability can be restored in Rakhine, Ko Min Than Soe told Frontier by phone on June 8.
“After studying at PDI for nearly a year, my thinking completely changed into a positive way,” he said. “I’m now able to analyse the causes of conflict, which helps me to find ways to build peace.”