The recent news that the imprisoned Dr. Aye Maung being banned from politics and not allowed to take up office as lawmaker was greeted gleefully by some but somberness by many ethnic nationality politicians.
On May 20, Dr. Aye Maung who is serving a 20-year prison term for treason, when he gave a speech in 2018 saying that “armed struggle” is one way to regain back sovereignty of the Arakan people, was stripped of his status as a MP and also barred from running for office in the future, according to the state media.
Writer Wai Hin Aung (also known as Aung Kyaw Win) and Lower House MP Dr. Aye Maung
delivered fiery speeches on the commemoration event for the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Arakan (Rakhine) Kingdom at to the Burmese in 1785.
Both speakers encouraged the audience to take advantage of the Myanmar government’s instability amid the Rohingya refugee crisis and fight for independence. While Wai Hin Aung openly endorsed the armed struggle to achieve the Arakan people’s goal, Dr Aye Maung just mentioned more theoretically that it is also a way to realize their aspirations.
Dr Aye Maung was with the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party from 2010 to 2014; with Arakan National Party (ANP) from 2014 to 2017 as head of the party; and as an independent politician from 2017 until today.
Due to political in-fighting he tried to resign from the ANP. But the party only suspend his chairmanship and asked him to reconsider his resignation on 8 January 2018.
He was arrested on 18 January 2018 and charged with high treason and conducting public mischief on 10 September 2018. He was eventually sentenced him to 20 years for high treason under section 122 of the Penal Code and two years for incitement under section 505(b) of the Penal Code, to be served concurrently by the Sittwe District Court, on 19 March 2019 . The three appeal for revision reaching up to Supreme Court of the Union of the case were rejected on 24 January 2020, which involved altogether 41 hearings.
On 18 May 2020, the Union Election Commission (UEC) removed Dr. Aye Maung’s MP status, including ineligibility to serve as a lawmaker since 19 March 2019, when he was convicted of treason. He is still a prisoner under the existing law.
According to the Article 88(a) of the Lower House Election Law, parliamentarian who loses his seat after being found guilty of treason, or after being sentenced to life imprisonment for any offense, loses his or her right to contest any election for either the Lower or Upper House of the Union Parliament, or for any state or regional parliament, according to the UEC. Until recently, when the Union Parliament resumed in Naypyitaw, Dr. Aye Maung’s name was among the list of MPs who are on leave.
On social media, the UEC announcement of stripping lawmaker status of Dr. Aye Maung and banning from participating in politics was welcomed by some saying that he is the main collaborator with Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing.
One Facebook commentator writes: “That’s a very good news, because he is the most racist man and he is responsible for all the problems in Arakan.”
But non-Bamar ethnic politicians see it differently.
U Pe Than, a Lower House lawmaker from the ANP representing Myebon constituency, said he would not dispute the commission’s decision as it acted in line with the election law.
“But it is too harsh that he was punished under this treason law for speaking at a public event, which is the opposite of an armed rebellion. And they were not instigating a riot,” U Pe Than said, according to The Irrawaddy recent report.
Shan Nationalities League for Democray Spokesman Sai Leik sees the NLD regime’s handling of the case like during the military dictatorship era, saying: “Using the same military dictatorship system of oppression applied on them (NLD) is deviation from democratic norms and not in tune with their original political aspirations. I would analyze that during the trying time of national reconciliation, this kind of action is unreasonable.”
In the same vein, ANP Mrauk U Township MP U U Hla Saw bemoaned: “I thought they’ll be lawfully lenient and hoped (Dr Aye Maung) would be release. Now he is even been blocked to run for election, which is questionable. During this change of Myanmar summer this drastic action is not in order. In this democratic era it shouldn’t be like this.”
While Dr Aye Maung position on Rohingya is not that progressive and popular among liberal-minded intellectuals and he even saw Tatmadaw or Military as the Arakan people’s protector from Islamophobia and over population angst of the Rohingya, it is unfair that he is banned for airing his political conviction. Especially, his Arakan nationalism and his narrative about historical past. Arakan is a nation and it is nothing wrong to talk about it and wanting to restore its glory. It seems the Bamar ethnocentric political elite can’t bear to accept the reality, as they just want to promote absolute Bamar reign, under Burmese empire. The same goes for all other non-Bamar ethnic nationalities.
In sum, the powers that be would need to think beyond the three Burmese king statues displayed in Naypyitaw, which is connected to their Bamar supremacy aspirations. Because if Burma or Myanmar is to be a multi-ethnic state, in words and deeds, and become a federal union as professed, the Bamar ruling clique would need to make more accommodation to the other ethnic historical legacy and preservation; not just forced suppression and assimilation that breed animosity and hatred without end.