30 March 2016, The Tablet

Christians appointed to first democratically elected Myanmar government

Myanmar Cardinal Charles Maung Bo has called on Christians to be a sign of hope for the nation

Three out of the 14 regional ministers appointed by the first democratically elected President of Myanmar, U Htin Kyaw, are Christian.

One Catholic and two Baptists from the National League for Democracy (NLD) party were officially announced at state and division parliaments on 28 March, reported Asian news agency, UCAN News. They will have responsibility for forming the state and regional governments and for signing local legislation in Myanmar (also known as Burma).

Catholic Mahn Jonny was appointed chief minister of Irrawaddy Division, while Baptist and ethnic Chin, Salai Lian Luai, was appointed chief minister of Chin state. Khat Aung, a Baptist and ethnic Kachin, was named chief minister of Kachin state.

Both Mr Lian Luai and Mr Aung have served as regional members of parliament in their respective regions and Mr Jonny has served as a member of the lower house. He is also part of the NLD’s Central Executive Committee.

Peter Lama Naw Aung, a Catholic and lower house lawmaker from the Kachin State Democracy Party, said he hoped that Khat Aung will focus on peace, the Myitsone dam issue dividing the region and natural resource management.

"The people [in Kachin state] are very poor despite a lot of natural resources coming from the state. So revenues from natural resources need to be used for the development of the region, such as developing healthcare, education and creating jobs," Lama Naw Aung told UCAN News.

Conflict-torn Kachin, a predominately Christian region, has more than 100,000 displaced people living in temporary camps since 2011, due to fighting between the military and the Kachin Independence Army.

Giam Kham Lian, a Baptist and upper house lawmaker in Chin state, noted his region was in desperate need of infrastructure improvements and better healthcare.

A mostly mountainous impoverished region, the state's residents are beset by a water shortage. Kham Lian said: "The state government should prioritise transportation, healthcare and solving the current issue of water scarcity".

Myanmar Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, in his Easter message, called on Christians to be a sign of hope for the nation.

"As a Catholic community … we were persecuted, we were buried in the tombs of poverty, oppression and denial of rights," he said. "I strongly believe that Myanmar's resurrection from its painful past is occurring. We as a community need to stand witness to that Easter of hope," he said.

The cardinal was referring to the years of military dictatorship that beset Myanmar from 1962-2011 and the ensuing marginalisation of Christians and other religious minorities in a predominantly Buddhist country.

In his inaugural speech President Htin Kyaw said:  “Our new government will implement national reconciliation, peace in the country, emergence of a constitution that will pave the way to a democratic union, and enhance the living standard of the people.”

The government will formally take power on 1 April.



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