After the latest outbreak of interreligious violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Mandalay subsided, President U Thein Sein declared that the incident was incited by an unknown group whose motives remained unclear.

Buddhist residents ride motorcycles through the streets of Mandalay on July 4 after the funeral of a man killed in communal violence two days earlier. (Si Thu Lwin/The Myanmar Times)Buddhist residents ride motorcycles through the streets of Mandalay on July 4 after the funeral of a man killed in communal violence two days earlier. (Si Thu Lwin/The Myanmar Times)

In his July 7 speech, the president reiterated that his government would not tolerate any efforts to encourage violence and would take severe legal action against those inciting hatred and hostility.

The message was similar to that which he delivered after other outbreaks of violence. And in each case, President U Thein Sein has been unable to pinpoint the actors behind the blood-shedding in Rakhine State, Mandalay Region, Shan State and elsewhere.

But his government is not the only body unable or unwilling to come up with answers. Elected parliamentarians have rarely submitted any proposals aimed at halting religious conflict and sectarian violence, and ask few questions of the government’s efforts to resolve the underlying causes of the conflicts and its apparent failure to halt riots quickly and decisively.

Some hluttaw representatives told The Myanmar Times in recent interviews that they have tried to submit proposals on conflict in their constituencies. Instead of trying again, however, they have simply given up and stopped asking questions.

Moreover, some representatives do not want to ask the hard questions because they are worried of creating tension with fellow MPs who practise a different religion or come from another ethnic group.

“I submitted a proposal in February 2013 regarding the conflict in Rakhine State in 2012,” said Dr Aye Maung, an Amyotha Hluttaw representative for Rakhine State. “The proposal was rejected because we are a minority in the hluttaw. I did not submit any further proposals. But this case concerns the whole country – it’s everybody’s problem. The government must do something if the hluttaw submits proposals on it.”

Thura U Aung Ko, the head of the lower house’s legal affairs, public complaints and appeals committee, said few MPs “dare to talk about” the conflicts because of the sensitivity surrounding the issue and the strongly divergent opinions inside and outside Myanmar.

“This case is wedged between international and national opinion,” he said, adding that he would consult with other members of his committee about how to address it.

“It is a very important issue for the country but I have to be silent for now,” he said.

U Win Htein, the Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Meiktila from the National League for Democracy (NLD), said that the fact that the party had not submitted any proposal on the conflict was not evidence that it did not want to touch the issue. Instead, the NLD has issued statements on the conflicts and is collaborating with local party members and monks to defuse tensions when possible.

“We are not hands-off about this issue,” he said. “Once we hear about incidents we send local members to the spot at once and follow up with public statements. We feel this is more effective than submitting

proposals and asking questions in the hluttaw. If we discuss this issue in parliament we think there will be more disputes and arguments … Also, we do not want our proposals to be ignored, mocked or degraded.”

Others cite the need to allow regional governments to do their job. Union Solidarity and Development Party representative for Amarapura township U Thein Tun Oo said that he had not submitted proposals to discuss the latest violence in Mandalay because the Mandalay Region government was better placed to take action.

“I will put up a proposal if I see that the regional government takes too long or acts weakly,” said U Thein Tun Oo, who is also a member of the Pyithu Hluttaw Bill Committee. “But the chief minister is explaining what is being done three or four times every day.”

Every hluttaw representative can submit proposals and ask questions in the hluttaw if it is in accord with the regulations; there are no limits on what can be discussed in the hluttaw regarding religious conflicts.

When journalists asked Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann at a recent press conference why the hluttaw had remained silent on the conflicts, he replied that the parliament had limited power to act unless asked to assist by the government.

“The hluttaw will help to find a solution so that more conflicts do not erupt – if the executive asks it to do so,” he said.

Ko Myo Yan Naung Thein, founder of the Bayda Institute, a Yangon-based political science school, agreed that the communal conflicts need to be handled carefully. However, he said it was wrong for parliament to simply stay out of the debate and wash its hands of any responsibility.

“This is a case that can harm the whole country,” Ko Myo Yan Naung Thein said. “There are a lot of hands involved in these conflicts that cannot be seen. If the hluttaw that stands for people won’t discuss this case, what case will they discuss?”

Translation by Thiri Min Htun