Myanmar vote ban fills ethnic minorities with anger and despair

WION Web Team
New Delhi Published: Oct 24, 2020, 01:23 PM(IST)

File photo of Aung San Suu Kyi. Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) is widely expected to return to power. However, support for the party is decreasing in ethnic minority areas

Decision to exclude conflict-hit minority regions from the vote due in November 8 polls has filled minority groups with anger in Thailand. The decision has ostensibly been taken over security concerns. But it has now made people in these regions angry and filled them with despair. Nearly two million people will get disenfranchised

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) is widely expected to return to power. However, support for the party is decreasing in ethnic minority areas. Myanmar's election commission released a long list of constituencies last week. Voting will not take place in these constituencies.

A million people in Rakhine state and hundreds of thousands elsewhere will get disenfranchised.

"This is devastating," said Hla Maung Oo, an ethnic Rakhine and head of one of many camps for displaced people in his state. He was quoted by AFP.

"I'm depressed by the decision, because I knew who I was going to vote for from the beginning."

Tensions in Rakhine were high even before the move.

Rakhine state is witnessing civil war as Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar military are engaged in a conflict that has killed and wounded hundreds and forced 200,000 people out of their homes. AA enjoys widespread support from people who have long felt marginalised by the majority Bamar.

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Trapped by fighting and swept up in the resulting disenfranchisement are a number of other ethnic minorities, including the Mro, Khami and Daingnet.

"We're in the middle of two groups and we're afraid of both," said Sein Hla Tun, an ethnic Mro from Kyauktaw township.

"We just want a political solution to this, instead of fighting."

Enduring hopelessness

One community in Rakhine state was notably unaffected by this latest decision, but only because they were already disenfranchised.

Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims have had their citizenship and rights stripped away over decades.

A brutal military crackdown in 2017 forced 750,000 to flee to refugee camps in Bangladesh -- violence that now sees Myanmar face genocide charges at the UN's top court.


But 600,000 more Rohingya still live in Myanmar, mostly in Rakhine state, living under what rights groups have described as a system of apartheid.

"We had no hope before, and we still have no hope," Saw Aung, a Rohingya from Minbya township, told AFP by phone.

"Even if the elections were held, our situation would not improve."

Pointing fingers

In total nearly two million people of voting age will now be unable to cast a ballot -- about five percent of the electorate.

Other states across the country -- notably in Shan, Kachin and Karen -- have also been left reeling by the announcement.

Kachin State People's Party MP Dwe Bu accused the government of letting down ethnic minorities.

"We believed the NLD government would strive for democracy and work for the public," she said.
"But now, I feel they're even worse."

The impartiality of the election commission -- a body wholly appointed by the government -- has been brought squarely into question.

Observers say the latest disenfranchisement was largely in ethnic minority strongholds, likely tilting those areas' votes in favour of Suu Kyi's NLD and raising fears of more conflict and political violence.

The commission is "blatantly denying minorities representation", said Kyaw Win of Burma Human Rights Network, calling for a reversal of the decision.

(With AFP inputs)

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