HPAKANT, Kachin State — An estimated 100,000 internal migrants working at jade mines in Kachin State’s Hpakant will not be able to cast a vote in Sunday’s election, according to the local election commission.
“At least 100,000 persons will be disenfranchised in Hpakant. They are working here and will not go back to their homes to cast a vote,” Thein Han, chairman of the Hpakant Township election sub-commission told The Irrawaddy.
“They are migrant workers. So they will not be able to vote if they stay here. They have to go back home if they are to cast a vote.”
Locals estimate that there are over 200,000 people working as hand-pickers in Hpakant, searching for precious stones among piles of debris dumped by jade mining companies.
Thein Han suggested that those ineligible to cast ballots on Nov. 8 had either not lived in Hpakant for 180 days or had failed to register with the local election office to cast an advance vote.
Temporary residents needed to submit application form 3(a) to their local election commission, which would then register migrants’ names on the township list if they were eligible to vote. But the application also required certification from a ward administrator that the applicant had lived in the given constituency for at least six months.
Some jade miners said they were rarely allowed by their employers to go into the town of Hpakant and therefore had difficulty in applying to cast a vote.
“I’ve been here for two years and I would like to cast a vote,” said jade miner Myat Kyaw. “But I can only go out twice a month. When I applied to cast a vote, I was asked to submit certification. Then I did not bother to go there [the election sub-commission office] again as I had no time.”
Zaw Yaw, a hand-picker who searches for jade in debris dumped by the Myanmar Tagaung Company, also faced difficulties enrolling.
“We’ve only been here for five months and therefore can’t vote [in Hpakant]. My home is too far from here and as I have to work to live, I won’t bother to cast a vote back in my home town,” he said.
Some permanent Hpakant residents have also been excluded from voter lists.
“We have a household registration certificate, but were not included in voter lists,” said Aung Nan, who has lived in Hpakant for more than two decades. “We went to the election commission office for fear that our votes would be manipulated and become a vote for the USDP [Union Solidarity and Development Party] as many have speculated.”
“But again, I was not included in the final voter list. Now, I’ve lost my suffrage,” he said.
The Irrawaddy spoke with dozens of Hpakant locals and found that many were excluded from voter lists although they had been living in the area for generations.
Khin Maung Myint, a candidate for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy that originally there were only 30,000 voters on Hpakant Township’s voter list.
“The number has increased as we, the NLD, urged people to apply. But many locals are still excluded from the voter list,” he said.
According to the Hpakant Township election sub-commission, there are 89,488 voters registered on final voter lists in the township and over 10,000 of them are service personnel or police officers.
Translated by Thet Ko Ko