BANGLADESH. Cox´s Bazar: Myanmar’s national election is 8 Nov. On the basis of public opinion, the pro-democracy Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), is leading the general election. However, just five days before the election, extremist Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu surrendered dramatically on 3 Nov.
Wirathu addressed his colleagues and fans, “I would like to urge my fellow monks across the country to ask their followers to vote for the parties that work to protect the country’s caste and religion.” Myanmar-based politicians and political analysts believe Wirathu staged the drama to swing the vote in favor of extremist nationalists.
Wirathu and his supporters succeeded in lobbying for the legalization of intermarriage and also supported the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which lost to Suu Kyi’s party in the 2015 general election. Wirathu has been sharply criticized for his anti-Muslim rhetoric, and has been accused by some of helping to wage violence against the Rohingya ethnic group in the western Rakhine state.
Insight from political leaders and activists
Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin told Transcontinental Times, “He surrendered five days before the election. This is definitely a political game. He was in hiding for a year and a half. Why not surrender then? ”
Lwin added, “Wirathu is a man backed by the army. With this, he has started political gaming. These are the sympathies and attention of the Myanmar Army. The army chief has not given an interview anywhere for a long time. Today, he suddenly spoke for more than 50 minutes in a local medium. They are doing it to get attention.”
Former Myanmar Rohingya Parliamentarian Shwe Maung told Transcontinental Times, “This may be because the government may release him if he surrenders now. In this way, the people can be turned towards the anti- National League For Democracy and extremists. ”
“Ever since we Rohingyas have been members of the Burmese parliament in 2010, Wirathu has been spreading hate speech against the Rohingya, anti-Muslim rhetoric in coordination with extremist politicians. Wirathu has been trying to defeat the NLD by arresting the police. The new government can either punish or release him. Basically, he wants to criticize the civil government and wants to prove NLD is bad for the people, country, religion,” Maung concluded.
Holding Wirathu accountable for his crimes
Human rights organization Fortify Rights Co-Founder and Chief Executive Matthew Smith shared his thoughts with Transcontinental Times, “Ashin Wirathu attempted to communicate with Myanmar voters in the context of this so-called surrender to sway them towards his extremist-nationalist agenda. His rhetoric may appeal to a racist base of voters, but many people in Myanmar either don’t care or are simply tired of his rhetoric. This stunt is unlikely to sway the election in any meaningful way.”
Smith added, “Ashin Wirathu’s past conduct could amount to international crimes. He deserves to be investigated and possibly prosecuted for his role in the Rohingya genocide. Instead, the government is planning to prosecute him for criticizing State Counselor Suu Kyi. That’s the wrong reason. This is a man who openly incited hatred and even genocide against Rohingya Muslims, and he’s facing charges for criticizing the acting head of state. This lays bare the failure of Suu Kyi’s administration to protect ethnic nationalities, the Rohingya in particular. It sends a message that hate speech and incitement against minorities is permissible in Myanmar so long as you don’t criticize the powerful. The whole situation is a sorry state of affairs.”
Many are speculating the concession of Wirathu just days before the election could change the outcome.