A Critical Look at the Arakan National Party’s 2020 Election Manifesto

he ANP’s electoral slogan has changed since 2015. The slogan is now “Unite, Love and Build a New State – Vote for ANP”, while in 2015 it was “Love Your Race, Pure Blood, then Be Responsible as a Rakhine”. So the ANP seems to have modified its stance from a race-based movement to a state-based one.

06 Oct 2020

By Kyaw Lynn | DMG

The Arakan National Party (ANP), founded in January 2014, is the principal Rakhine/Arakanese political party. It released its electoral manifesto on September 8, containing 57 articles under four main sectors; namely, Rakhine State Development, Equal Rights for All Ethnic Groups, Democracy Enlargement, and a Federal Constitution. The ANP’s electoral slogan has changed since 2015. The slogan is now “Unite, Love and Build a New State – Vote for ANP”, while in 2015 it was “Love Your Race, Pure Blood, then Be Responsible as a Rakhine”. So the ANP seems to have modified its stance from a race-based movement to a state-based one.

At first glance, the question that comes to mind when looking at the ANP manifesto is the definition of the terms “Arakan” and “Rakhine”. Arakan, according to some leading Rakhine institutions, refers to the land of Arakan (territory) while Arakanese means the people of Arakan. The ANP declaration officially refers to “Rakhine Ethnic”, not really “all the people who reside in Rakhine State” or “Arakanese”. The fundamental question this raises is which people the ANP is really trying to represent and fight for. If the ANP is seeking to represent the purely Rakhine-speaking people, its main political focus will still be on race, which is very similar to its 2015, race-based emphasis.

In its introduction, the manifesto says that the November 2020 election is regarded as “very important” for political change, not just for ethnic Rakhines but for the whole of Myanmar. But after the 2015 election, in which the ANP won a majority in Arakan, the state’s chief minister was appointed by the National League for Democracy and the ANP found that it had little power under Myanmar’s current Constitution. Furthermore, the people are exhausted and have lost faith in the present political process, which has provided them no benefit. Although the manifesto highlights the issue of “vote division”, it does not describe any tactic or remedy to solve this issue.

Another controversial issue from the ANP manifesto is the priority the party gives to certain sectors. For instance, the manifesto cites “Rakhine State Development” as the No. 1 priority, while other sectors like equality, democratisation and federalisation come second, third and fourth respectively. There seems to be a contradiction here. The ANP’s stated priority is clearly economic development, but the ANP is one of the main parties calling for self-determination.

Under the first section, “Rakhine State Development”, 12 sectors are included: 

1) governance
2) economy
3) roads and telecommunications
4) farming
5) livestock and fisheries
6) education
7) health
8) energy and electricity
9) environmental conservation
10) urbanisation and municipality
11) industry
12) general

It is questionable as to why “governance” is included under “development”. This raises the question of whether the ANP is arguing that weak development in Rakhine State is due to weak governance or is more about the division of power between the central and local government. 

Governance and Development, a Complicated Relationship? 

According to the prominent political scientist Francis Fukuyuma, political development and economic development are essentially different and can occur at different times (“all good things do not necessarily need to come together”). Thus “governance” seems misplaced under development. In addition, in the governance sector, the ANP has highlighted “accountable, responsible, clean (uncorrupted), and secure and justice-oriented government”, but it has not mentioned the question of effective government, which is a principal need for effective economic development and justice. Obviously, not all clean, justice-oriented and accountable governments are effective ones.

For the economy, road/telecommunications sectors, farming, and livestock and fisheries, the ANP’s policies are mostly leftist, big government, protectionist, consumerist, and export-oriented. However, in the education and health sectors, the policies are quite questionable. For instance, most policies in the former sector have highlighted basic education involving the opening of a new education college to provide more qualified schoolteachers, the building of new schools and staff residences, and the introduction of a post-graduate diploma programme. 

These policies fail to highlight an important aspect of Rakhine State basic education; namely, why Rakhine State has one of the lowest pass rates nationwide in the matriculation examination (23.97% in 2019). Do ANP leaders believe this situation is simply due to unqualified schoolteachers and material deficiencies like substandard schools, roads and staff residences? It is also questionable why they have proposed to open a new “education college” instead of advocating for material and non-material upgrades to the current Kyaukphyu Education College, which is ranked one of the lowest in Myanmar. 

The poor education system in Rakhine State is the product of a number of factors, ranging from poverty and material deficiencies to socio-political governance, which only a holistic approach will be able to improve. As for the health sector, the ANP policy seems to be extensive and mentions universal healthcare and a health insurance system, the control of both transmissible and non-transmissible diseases, and the improvement of rural health infrastructure.

For the energy and electricity, environmental conservation, urbanisation and municipality, and industry sectors, the policies fail to highlight the current degree of electrification in Arakan and a five-year plan for improvement. The manifesto also fails to include alternative forms of energy such as hydro and solar energy. 

The environmental policies fail to make a link between current foreign direct investment and environmental degradation, which is one of the most important and controversial environmental challenges in Arakan State and involves other countries such as China. 

In the industry sector, implementation of the Ponnagyun Industrial Zone and improvement of small and medium-sized industries were addressed. Finally, in the “general” sector the ANP has lumped together a number of important issues; namely, the role of youth, women, cultural and literary conservation, policies for the elderly and disabled, and job opportunities for returning workers. Perhaps this sector would be more aptly named “human resources” and could be given more prominence.  

The Majority’s Burden 

The ANP, being the largest bloc in the Arakan State parliament, has a responsibility to focus on the most important issues currently facing the state and beyond. The party manifesto, however, neglects to cover important issues such as human rights violations, armed conflict, macroeconomic management, foreign investment, the current peace process and the role of the Muslim community in Arakan State. Politically, it is vital to argue how federalisation and the ceasefire are interrelated, and to suggest ways to advance both processes. The manifesto does not do this. 

Another prominent manifesto omission is on the issue of non-Rakhine Buddhist ethnic and religious groups, and how the ANP perceives and plans for them. Currently, this is even more crucial because these minorities are often the most vulnerable ones due to the current armed conflict. Being the largest political bloc in the state legislature, the ANP should embrace multicultural, comprehensive and visionary stances, not just in words but also in policy formulation and implementation.  

About the Author: Kyaw Lynn is a post-graduate student studying Political Science at the University of Yangon. He is also the chairperson of the Political Science Association (University of Yangon) and one of the founders of Amnesty Arakan Team (AAT).