October 6, 2020

မြန်မာ Election commission accused of discrimination after rejecting Rohingya candidates

The Union Election Commission (UEC) has been accused of discrimination after rejecting several Rohingya candidates who applied to contest seats in the upcoming election. 

The committee said it blocked the candidacies of five men on the grounds that when they were born their parents were not citizens, but lawyers and activists say that claim is false. 

Four of the would-be candidates are from the Democracy and Human Rights Party (DHRP) while one was hoping to run as an independent. 

Most Rohingya were stripped of their right to vote ahead of the 2015 election and the majority of Rohingya applicants were denied the chance to contest parliamentary seats.

Among the DHRP’s candidates in Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Sittwe, only Aye Win, who will contest a Pyithu Hluttaw seat for Maungdaw, was accepted. 

Khin Maung Win, who planned to contest a seat in Sittwe, and independent candidate Thar Aye have filed appeals while the others plan to file theirs soon.  

“I’m sad for us, and also for the people who were going to vote for us,” Kyaw Min, DHRP’s leader and one of the rejected candidates, told Myanmar Now. 

“The government should make it right, to be in line with the law, and to be fair. Otherwise it is not good for people from this area or the reputation of the government,” he added. 

“Our country should define an equal standard for all citizens... this kind of discriminations is so horrible,” said Nyi Nyi, chair of the Equality Election Victory Committee (EEVC), a group of legal experts supporting 25 Muslims hoping to win seats this year. 

Tin Hlaing, chair of the Rakhine State Election Commission, told Myanmar Now the candidates were rejected in accordance with election laws and regulations. 

The law says a candidate for parliament cannot be “a citizen who was born of parents, both or one of whom was not a citizen at the time of his birth”. 

Some of the Rohingya candidates have shown that their parents had National Registration Cards (NRCs), which were introduced in the 1950s, while others like Kyaw Min had parents that passed away before their introduction. 


U Kyaw Min, the Chair of Democracy and Human Rights Party (DHRP) | Photo by Myanmar Now

U Kyaw Min, the Chair of Democracy and Human Rights Party (DHRP) | Photo by Myanmar Now

Kyaw Min already contested and won a parliamentary seat in the 1990 election, which was annulled by the junta, and he served on a committee led by Aung San Suu Kyi that pushed for the junta to allow the winning candidates to take their seats. 

Thar Aye was also allowed to contest the 1990 election and the 2010 election. 

Kyaw Than, chair of the Maungdaw District Election Commission, told Myanmar Now, incorrectly, that having an NRC did not make someone a citizen. 

“That NRC card is issued only temporarily. The people with those cards have to keep up with the application process to get citizenship,” he said. 

Kyaw Than’s claim is disputed by legal experts, and there is a precedent from the previous election that also contradicts his argument.  

When the NLD candidate Lwin Soe Min won a seat in 2015, his USDP rival Myint Aung sought to have him disqualified by arguing his father was not yet a citizen when Lwin Soe Min was born. 

But the complaint was rejected; the immigration ministry told the election commission that his father was already a citizen when he was born because he had an NRC.

Phay Maung Tin, a lawyer who supported Lwin Soe Min at the time, said that case showed that the Rohingya candidates should be allowed to run this year.

He also questioned the logic of the law itself: “So, for U Kyaw Min, he is already over 70. When he was born, it was the era before independence. Do we have to say his parents were citizens of England?” 

Khin Maung Zan, a candidate for the National Democratic Party for Development (NDPD) said the rules should be applied as they were in the 2015 case. 

“This procedure is inclusive of the whole country. Therefore, not only the candidate applicants from U Kyaw Min’s party but also whoever applies like this should be allowed,” he said.

Kyaw Min’s DHRP submitted 18 candidate applications for the 2015 election but only three were allowed to contest.


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