RANGOON — About 20,000 mostly ethnic Mon citizens will not be able to vote in a Nov. 8 general election due to “security concerns” in southeastern Burma’s Karen State, an election board official has confirmed, reigniting concerns that ethnic minority populations could be manipulated during the historic vote.
Residents of 33 villages in four village tracts in Kya-Inn Seikkyi Township will not cast ballots because the area lies beyond the centralized administrative authority, instead falling under the control of an ethnic armed group, the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), and its political wing, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), which is not a registered political party.
About 80 percent of those affected are ethnic Mon, a minority residing primarily in Mon and Karen states. According to Karen State election sub-commission software officer Maw Maw Naing, the villagers were included on initial voter lists, but their names did not appear on a revised list issued on Sept. 14.
The official said that the first round of lists, issued earlier this year, was ordered to be removed by the NMSP, and that the area was beyond the reach of both sub-commission officials and the Ministry of Home Affairs.
“Administrative power does not take effect in those areas,” Maw Maw Naing said. “Administrative offices cannot be formed due to the existence of armed groups and areas where security is a concern. It is difficult to hold elections in those areas due to the situation of security.”
A member of the NMSP, however, sent a letter to the sub-commission in mid-July requesting that the villagers be assured to participate in accordance with regular procedures.
Residents of the concerned communities held a press conference on Friday to air their concerns about the exclusion, claiming that because they were included on the initial list they believed that they would be able to participate in the vote despite having not been informed of any polling stations in their villages.
About 3,000 of the villagers signed a petition, presented to the press on Friday, demanding that they be allowed to vote. The petition and accompanying letter is now being sent to the state sub-commission for consideration.
Naing Soe Myint, Secretary 1 of the Mon Nation Party (MNP)—one of the minority’s dominant political parties—said the exclusion may have been intended to sideline opposition by disenfranchising a population likely to support ethnic representation.
“In my opinion, it’s about 20,000 people and most of them are Mon; more than 80 percent,” he said. “The USDP will not get these votes—the Mon parties could surely win, but they will lose—this is a deciding vote.”
The predominantly Mon township in Karen State did not partake in Burma’s last general election, held in 2010 and broadly viewed as fraudulent. The MNLA penned a fresh ceasefire accord with the government in early 2012, and is currently engaged in Union-level peace talks geared toward a nationwide accord.
Despite those efforts, many areas under rebel control remain off-limits to Union oversight, causing concern that the exclusion of villagers in Kya-Inn Seikkyi could bode badly for other townships still inaccessible to the government.