COVID-19 Op-ed

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

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Zaw WinStudent, Asia Pacific
MA Human Rights and DemocratizationGlobal Campus of Human Rights Asia
PacificInstitute 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. 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. 
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.  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. 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.  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.  Available at < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJaJ-9rOv0g&t=2816s>
(Accessed 5 November 2020).

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