COVID-19 Op-ed

Myanmar’s Upcoming Election amid Covid-19: A Question of Inclusivity, Justice, and Equality

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Zaw Win
Student, Asia Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratization
Global Campus of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

How could an election be free and fair if it is not based on the principles of equality, justice, and inclusivity? A free and fair election is one of the essential pillars in a democratic country where the government authority derives from its people’s wills. A democratic government should also exhaust and exert all its efforts to be a credible, free, and fair election in a transparent way based on the principles of justice, equality, and inclusivity.

After almost a decade since Myanmar’s transition to democracy, the current government will again embark on a democratic vote on 8 November. This is amid the rise of Covid-19 cases throughout the country, on top of ongoing armed conflicts. Moreover, the Union Election Commission seems to be determined to make the coming general elections free and fair. It sets out the motto of “Credible Elections Paving the Way to Democracy to conduct free, fair, and credible elections transparently and impartially, of serving all with equal rights to establish a strong democratic system.” At the same time, the Commission disregards the true principles of justice, equality, inclusivity for a specific group of people who hold the same rights in Myanmar.

Until 2015, Rohingyas had, like any other citizens, the right to vote and be elected in a public election. These rights have been systematically stripped off when authorities revoked the Rohingyas’ last legal document called Temporary Registration Cards locally known as White Cards in 2014 (Dinmore, 2015; BCC, 2015) and rejection of former elected Rohingya Members of Parliament for the 2015 general election (Mann, 2015). Regarding the rejection by the Union Election Commission in 2015, U Shwe Maung, a former Rohingya MP of Lower House (Pyithu Hluttaw) from 2010 to 2015 responded as “It’s ridiculous for me and I was elected in 2010. Now I’m working” (Mclaughlin, 2015). Moreover, A Rohingya leader, U Kyaw Min, chairperson of the Democracy and Human Rights Party who won a seat in the 1990 elections highlights the background context of Rohingya legal status, “It is not just the first time that we are trying to take part in this coming general election of Myanmar, and we had been allowed to involve and engage in Myanmar politics since the election under 91 departments in 1935. We were also represented in the Constituent Assembly after the 1947 general elections under the leadership of General Aung San as a legitimate ethnic group long before Myanmar Independence” (interview with MCN TV News on 7 October 2020).

Six Rohingya candidates who recently applied to compete for some constituencies of Rakhine state in the coming election have been rejected by the Union Election Commission for the reason that their parents were not citizens before they were born (Aljazeera, 2020). According to these candidates, the government at that time only issued National Registration Cards (NRCs) to their parents like all other people in Myanmar before they were born. Strangely, they were citizens at those times but astonishingly not citizens today. U Kyaw Min also said that one of his party candidates who was initially approved to compete and later rejected by UEC, Aye Win has a father who served as a civil servant in the Myanmar Police Force for years and served as a chairperson of the local judiciary board (interview MCH TV News on 7 October 2020).

Myanmar is still struggling to cope with the second wave of Covid19 pandemic. Total number of confirmed cases is at 56,940 with 1,330 deaths as of this writing. Amid this pandemic, ongoing bouts between Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups in parts of Rakhine State and Shan State continue to occur. With just 48 hours until the elections, more than one million people living in conflict areas will not be able to vote due to security concerns according to the announcement of UEC in October.

Myanmar’s elections will be marked as a second term that Rohingya’s legal rights to vote and to be elected have been arbitrarily and blatantly deprived as mentioned above. This deprivation defeats the objective of the Union Election Commission of Myanmar, Rohingya peoples’ legal status in the country, and the International Human Rights Laws including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (to which Myanmar is a signatory country), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The current civilian elected government should grant these rights to the Rohingya people currently living inside Rakhine state. These rights are paramount to ensure their basic rights and dignity. It may also provide viable solutions for 750,000 Rohingya living in overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh since 2017. Thus, the question of Inclusivity, Justice, and Equality should be raised. This is to ensure the integrity of  Myanmar’s forthcoming election.

References:

UEC, (2020), Objective. [Online] Available at < https://uec.gov.mm/pages.php?pagename=%E1%80%9B%E1%80%8A%E1%80%BA%E1%80%9B%E1%80%BD%E1%80%9A%E1%80%BA%E1%80%81%E1%80%BB%E1%80%80%E1%80%BA&menu=%E1%80%80%E1%80%B1%E1%80%AC%E1%80%BA%E1%80%99%E1%80%9B%E1%80%BE%E1%80%84%E1%80%BA%E1%80%A1%E1%80%80%E1%80%BC%E1%80%B1%E1%80%AC%E1%80%84%E1%80%BA%E1%80%B8> (Accessed  5 November 2020).

Dinmore (2015), Uncertain future for hundreds of thousands as white cards are revoked, MM Times News, published on 1 April 2015. [Online] Available at < https://www.mmtimes.com/national-news/13852-uncertain-future-for-hundreds-of-thousands-as-white-cards-are-revoked.html> (Accessed 5 November 2020).

BBC (2015), Myanmar revokes Rohingya voting rights after protests. BBC News, published on 11 February 2015. [Online] Available at <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-31421179 > (Accessed 5 November 2020).

Mann (2015), Rohingya MP and Mandalay Doctor Barred from Contesting November Election, The Irrawaddy News, published on 24 August 2015. [Online] Available at < https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/rohingya-mp-and-mandalay-doctor-barred-from-contesting-november-election.html> (Accessed 5 November 2020).

Mclaughlin (2015), Sitting Rohingya MP in Myanmar plans to appeal election ban, Reuters News, published on 24 August 2015. [Online] Available at < https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-politics-idUSKCN0QT1A920150824> (Accessed 5 November 2020).

Min (2020), နိုင်ငံတကာ ဖိအား ပိုများလာမယ့် အခြေအနကို NLD အစိုးရ ဖန်တီးသလိုဖြစ်နေ (အပြည့်အစုံ), MCN NEWS Channel Interview published on 8 October 2020. [Online] Available at < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJaJ-9rOv0g&t=2816s> (Accessed 5 November 2020).


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