Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in Rakhine State — which has been a hotbed of sectarian conflict between Rohingya Muslims and hard-line Buddhists — on Friday for three days of campaigning, but she will skip the state's most restive areas where her opposition movement faces stiff competition from a powerful nationalist party.
In the buildup to a Nov. 8 election in which religion and politics have become increasingly intertwined, Suu Kyi, who is expected to easily retain her parliamentary seat, has been accused by hard-line Buddhist nationalists of being too friendly towards Muslims. The charge is in stark contrast to criticism overseas, where the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) has been accused of saying too little about the widespread discrimination and violence faced by Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya minority.
The government describes Rohingyas as stateless and foreign migrants even though they have lived in Myanmar for generations. They are barred from contesting the election or even voting. In addition to the Rohingyas, there are millions of Muslims from other ethnic groups in Myanmar, a nation of 52 million people.
However, the NLD has refused to let any Muslim member contest for the party in the Nov. 8 parliamentary election. It has not said why it rejected Muslim candidates.
"In this country there are about 5 million Muslims. Part of NLD's policy is to defend human rights and democracy," said Mya Aye, a rejected Muslim candidate from NLD, "but rejecting Muslim candidates from their party is rejecting the rights of 5 million Muslim minorities."
In her first trip ever to Rakhine, Suu Kyi will campaign for three days in Taungup, Thandwe and Gwa towns in southern part of the state, where the NLD support is the strongest. She will, however, skip the northern part, which is home to more than 100,000 Rohingyas.
Suu Kyi's decision to visit the southern townships in Rakhine, rather than the state's capital Sittwe and northern areas, was based on the acceptance that the NLD was unlikely to garner much support in those constituencies, party members said.
In recent years more than 200 people have been killed, mostly Rohingyas, in violence and rioting between them and Buddhists. Another 140,000 have been forced to flee their homes, and now live in squalid camps.
At the same time, there have been reports of hardline Buddhist nationalist monks and local leaders of the powerful Arakan National Party calling on supporters to prevent Suu Kyi from campaigning in the state.
However, a statement from the Arakan National Network said the influential nationalist group would welcome Suu Kyi, who is barred from contesting for president because her two sons are foreign nationals, to Rakhine despite their political differences.