By MRATT KYAW THU | FRONTIER
YANGON — A by-election for a seat in the Rakhine State Hluttaw is shaping up as one of the most hotly contested this weekend, with the son of jailed politician Dr Aye Maung looming as a potential victor against his father’s former party.
A former leader of the Arakan National Party, Aye Maung was arrested in January after giving a public speech in Rakhine’s Rathedaung Township in which he accused the Bamar-majority government of treating Rakhine people like “slaves”.
Charged with high treason and incitement in September, he remains on trial but has publicly urged voters to back his son, U Tin Maung Win, in the by-election.
The battle for Rathedaung-2 pits Tin Maung Win, who is running as an independent, against U Maung Hla Myint from the Arakan National Party and U Thein Maung of the Arakan League for Democracy. Voting will take place on November 3.
Tin Maung Win has been involved in construction businesses since his father won a seat in the Amyotha Hluttaw in the 2010 general election. Maung Hla Myint runs a business in Rathedaung selling fisheries products.
While public interest in by-elections for 13 constituencies around the country has generally been low, the Rathedaung vote is being closely watched because it pits the personal popularity of Aye Maung against the party that he helped to establish and led to electoral success.
Rathedaung resident Ko Thein Tun, 26, said backing Tin Maung Win was a proxy vote for Aye Maung.
“I’ll vote for the individual candidate because his father is the leader of Rakhine politics,” Thein Tun told Frontier. “The son of the king must become the king. We believe that the blood of Dr Aye Maung will flow in his son’s vein. And I’m sure that Dr [Aye Maung] has been giving instructions to his son.”
In the lead-up to this weekend’s vote, some ethnic Rakhine migrant workers in Malaysia and Thailand have started posting on social media that they will stop sending money back to their parents if they vote for anyone other than Tin Maung Win.
Adding a further dimension to the race is the presence of the ALD, which merged with the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party to form the ANP.
ANP secretary and spokesperson U Tun Aung Kyaw said the diverse field was confusing for voters and many were uncertain about who to vote for. He gave his party a 50-50 chance of winning and discounted the ALD of having any chance.
“To be honest, Dr Aye Maung has a high profile in Rathedaung – he’s got many supporters there,” said Tun Aung Kyaw. “He once said that he would leave politics if [his son] loses in by-election. So there’s a perception in people’s mind that they should vote for [Tin Maung Win] to help Dr Aye Maung.”
Although the ANP was successful in the 2015 election, winning 44 of 63 seats, internal disagreements shortly afterwards saw disgruntled former ALD members break away and re-establish their old party.
Aye Maung’s resignation from the ANP in November 2017 also prompted some members to quit the party out of solidarity with their former leader.
Even while on trial, Aye Maung has remained an influential figure in Rakhine politics. In October the Union Election Commission gave approval for the formation of the Arakan Front Party, which Aye Maung has said he will lead.
Speaking to reporters outside court recently, he was quoted as saying that he planned to establish a new party to contest the 2020 election, and it would include retired high-ranking civil servants and former military and police officers.
Elected to the Amyotha Hluttaw in the 2010 elections, Aye Maung sought the chief ministry of Rakhine State in 2015, an ambition thwarted by his losing bid for a state assembly seat in that year’s general election.
He returned to the Pyithu Hluttaw – the lower house of the national legislature – last year, following a by-election to replace Union Immigration Minister U Thein Swe in Ann Township.