Election 2020

Many Myanmar Migrants in Thailand To Be Denied Vote as Extra Polling Stations Ruled Out

By Nyein Nyein 25 September 2020

Myanmar citizens planning to vote in Thailand next month will only be able to cast early ballots at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok and Consulate in Chiang Mai due to public health concerns amid COVID-19, despite earlier demands that more polling stations be opened in areas where many Myanmar migrants work.

Early voting for the Nov. 8 general election will be held at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok from Oct. 3-13 from 8 am to 6 pm, according to an embassy announcement on Friday. Prior to the announcement, Ambassador U Myo Myint Than also met 17 volunteers and labor rights advocates based in Bangkok on Thursday, informing them of the situation.

“We asked that mobile polling stations be set up in areas outside of Bangkok, as many workers won’t be able to travel to Bangkok as they only get one day off per week. The ambassador told us in July that he would try, but now he says it can’t happen for security reasons, citing COVID-19,” said U Aung Kyaw, the director of the Mahachai-based Migrants Workers’ Rights Network (MWRN).

“But the ambassador promised us he will make sure every eligible voter on the list can exercise their right to vote early,” U Aung Kyaw told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

The embassy said it planned to open three polling stations inside the compound’s new and old buildings in Bangkok. It will announce the list of eligible voters (who applied from 68 out of 77 provinces in Thailand) on its website and Facebook page on Monday and keep voters updated with all necessary information.

According to the Myanmar Embassy, there were more than 39,000 applications for early voting at the Myanmar Embassy in Thailand. Thailand is home to 1.15 million registered Myanmar migrant workers plus a number of students, scholars and diplomats from the country. Thailand also has many unregistered Myanmar migrants, who are not eligible to vote in the November poll.

Myanmar migrants working at a fish wholesale market in Ranong, southern Thailand. / Nyein Nyein / The Irrawaddy

In the 2015 general election, only 561 Myanmar voters in Thailand cast early votes, of whom merely a hundred or so were migrant workers. This year, many volunteers are helping migrant workers register to vote. Some of them are first-time voters.

U Aung Kyaw added, “The ambassador promised to extend the early voting period if needed.”

Ambassador U Myo Myint Than told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the embassy “has to consider security and COVID-19 preventative measures” and that the voting period will be flexible depending on the number of eligible voters.

He also said that in case there were any applications not included in the approved early voters list by the Union Election Commission, the embassy had prepared complaint forms.

However, Myanmar migrant voters based in southern Thailand said it will now be almost impossible for them to vote in the 2020 election.

“I have started thinking about whether I can get leave from my employer, because I can only go to the embassy in Bangkok for early voting if my employer permits me,” said U Than Soe, a migrant in Ranong.

U Than Soe, who is from Myeik, Tanintharyi Region, volunteered to help other migrants apply for early voting in August, hoping the embassy would set up a polling station in Ranong for migrant workers in southern Thailand.

There were about 6,000 early voting applications from migrants in southern Thailand’s Ranong, Phang Nga, Krabi, and Surat Thani provinces.

Some migrant workers whose passports are kept by their employers and cannot travel to Bangkok may lose their right to vote, he said.

“It is now uncertain whether I get to vote. I want to vote, but going to Bangkok is difficult for us,” said U Kyaw Moe, another migrant living in Ranong.

Very few migrant workers in the southern provinces will be able to vote, due to the travel costs and other difficulties involved in getting to Bangkok, including COVID-19, said U Min Oo, a migrant rights advocate from the Foundation for Education Development based in Phang Nga.

“I am sure the migrant voter turnout will be low. We need at least two days to go to Bangkok and some would need more time than that. It is uncertain whether they will get the days off. In addition, there is the COVID-19 situation,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The early voting date has not yet been set for some 1,000 Myanmar citizens who will be casting ballots early at the Myanmar Consulate General’s Office in Chiang Mai, according to U Zaw Myo Htet, consul and first secretary of the consulate.

U Zaw Myo Htet told The Irrawaddy the consulate received 1,054 early voting applications from nine provinces in northern Thailand, and is still awaiting delivery of ballot papers and the eligible early voters list from the Union Election Commission (UEC).

For early voters in northern Thailand, including Chiang Mai, U Zaw Myo Htet said the consulate tentatively plans to schedule three days for casting ballots. It will announce the dates next week, before the end of this month, he said.

Of the 4 million Myanmar nationals living overseas, about 100,000 submitted early voting applications for the 2020 election in July and August, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said last month, up from about 30,000 in 2015.

As of Sept. 24, the UEC had approved more than 64,000 early voters to cast ballots in October in Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul.

But the list is only from eight states/regions and a complete eligible voters list is still being processed.

The early voting date for Myanmar nationals in Singapore, where more than 37,000 applied for early voting, is set for Oct. 1-18, according to the website of the Myanmar Embassy in Singapore.

Early voting for Myanmar nationals in South Korea is set for Oct. 2-5 and Oct. 9-12, and in Malaysia is set for Oct. 9-11, according to the Facebook pages of the Myanmar embassies in South Korea and Malaysia.

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