Discrimination hardly guarantees a fair election
As campaigning continues for 8 November elections, wide-ranging discrimination continues to be a serious concern as Rohingya Muslims, Myanmar Chinese and Myanmar Indians are not allowed to participate in the political process even though they were allowed to vote in the 2010 election and the 2012 by-elections.
Indicative of such discrimination is the case of Rohingya MP U Shwe Maung, a sitting member of Parliament, who was rejected as a candidate in the 8 November elections on citizenship grounds. Although he made an appeal to the Rakhine State Election Commission on 22 August, it was rejected by the commission as were the documents proving his eligibility. His remonstrations in regards to his citizenship were also ignored.
Rejecting U Shwe Maung was quite an absurd decision, according to Charles Santiago, the chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). “U Shwe Maung is an elected member of Parliament from 2010. Now, they claim that he is not a citizen. His parents are not Myanmar citizens. If we talk about Rule of Law, one must be consistent to the Rule of Law. It is clear that 2010 is one law and [there is] another law right now,” he said.
“In denying a group of people because of their identity, because of their ethnicity, gender [saying] they can’t participate in the election process is a fundamental violation of human rights,” Mr Santiago continued. A number of Muslim candidates have also been banned from standing for election in Rakhine State. The entire world is looking at Myanmar now and hoping that Myanmar will become the shining example that other countries follow. “In denying a group of people [their candidacy] because of their ethnicity will cause [a] legitimacy crisis,” Mr Santiago said.
Preventing U Shwe Maung from standing for re-election questions the integrity of the coming elections. Temporary ID card holders (White Card holders) are previous Union of Myanmar ID card holders (NRC). White cards were only issued in 1994. “White Card holders and their ancestors are all previous NRC holders. Although White Cards holders are not allowed to vote, in my context, the NRC holders should be able to vote. In UEC’s guidelines, it’s clearly written citizens holding the NRC cards can vote. It’s still officially true,” U Shwe Maung claims.
U Shwe Maung submitted his application at the district level and it was rejected on 22 August. He appealed to the Rakhine State Election Commission, they rejected it on 1 September. “On September 3rd, I submitted a letter to review the decision to the Union Election Commission,” U Shwe Maung said. “UEC has power according to Section 53 of the electoral law. UEC has power to reverse the decision and also to look into the decision whether it is fair or not. How UEC will decide and when, it’s totally up to the UEC.”
Cambodian Member of Parliament and APHR board member Son Chhay who travelled to Sittwe
to support U Shwe Maung at the appeal hearing said: “We urge the UEC Chairman, who has expressed his commitment to ensuring the success of elections, to make the right decision. Grant Shwe Maung the freedom to stand for re-election, and allow all candidates their right to run for office.”
Mr Santiago said they would definitely make a formal complaint about this process. “In the context of ASEAN declaration, we can do that. We can also make representation to the embassies in the ASEAN region saying that what happened to Shwe Maung and others is not acceptable,” he said.
“It does not adhere to the highest standard that ASEAN wants. By the end of this year, ASEAN will become a community that must set the highest standard, not the lowest standard. Myanmar with the direction it is going in right now, denying people the right to stand as a candidate, even to vote in the case of the Rohingya shows that they are not anywhere close to meeting the requirements. Therefore, ASEAN has to deal with this issue.”
U Shwe Maung, who quit the USDP on 4 August, stated: “I will wait for the decision of the UEC as it holds the highest authority in the coming elections. I would need to wait for its decision.”
In fact, U Shwe Maung does not view the Rakhine State Election Commission’s banning of him from standing for elections as the main issue. What disturbs him more is the fact that his parents and his late ancestors are not considered Myanmar citizens. “It is not that big that I could not contest in elections, but they say my parents, grandparents and great grandparents are not Myanmar citizens. That issue is quite big,” U Shwe Maung said.
He brought all the original documents showing his ancestor’s Myanmar citizenship and tried to submit them to the Rakhine State Election Commission, but he was refused each time he requested them to review the documents. He requested the commission to look at the documents three times, and it overturned all his requests.
U Shwe Maung is bitter. “When they say my parents and ancestors are not citizens, I deeply feel that if my parents are not citizens, there would be no other Muslims who are Myanmar citizens. One question abruptly appears in my mind. Do they want to make all Muslims in Myanmar become countryless people?” he said.
Rohingya MP U Shwe Maung. Photo: EPA