Election 2020

Myanmar’s Minorities Claim They Cannot Vote in Ethnic Affairs Ministerial Races

By The Irrawaddy 8 November 2020

Some ethnic minority voters say they lost their right to vote for the ethnic affairs ministerial (EAM) candidates as the ballot papers were not provided along with those for the three parliamentary seats.

Sai Thiha Zaw, an ethnic Shan voter from Chanayethazan Township in Mandalay, said he could not vote as there was no ballot box for the Shan EAM role in his polling station. He said all seven members of his family could cast ballots for the Upper House, Lower House and regional parliamentary seats.

Many of Myanmar’s 38 million voters go to the poll on Sunday.

There are 29 EAM posts nationwide and 184 candidates are vying for the roles. The positions are created where a minority in a state or region represents more than 0.1 percent of the population. Voters with mixed-ethnic backgrounds can vote in an EAM contest.

The EAM focus is on developing the ethnic group’s literature and culture. They are the only government members elected directly to their positions with all other regional and state appointments made by the president.

Sai Thiha Zaw raised the issue with the regional election commission before voting, as his ethnicity is stated on his national identity card and household registration.

Sai Thein Maung, the candidate from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy in Mandalay, said he has heard many similar complaints even though they could cast their ballots in the 2010 and 2015 elections. He said the commission must take responsibility.

A Mandalay Region election commission secretary said they could not vote if they are not on the voter list because the voters were given time to appeal if their names were not on the list for EAM voting between July and October.

In Yangon, ethnic Karen and Rakhine voters can pick EAM candidates, as there are more than 110,000 Rakhine voters and more than 200,000 Karen voters in the region.

Daw Htoot May, an independent candidate for Yangon’s Rakhine EAM post, said more than 1,000 Rakhine in Yangon’s North Okkalapa, Thaketa, Hlaing Tharyar and South Dagon townships could not cast EAM ballots.

Mahn Than Win Oo, the Karen People Party’s candidate for Yangon’s Karen EAM post, raised the issue with the Yangon Region election commission on Sunday as many voters in Yangon’s North Dagon were not able to cast ballots.

He said some several hundred ethnic Karen voters in North Okkalapa, Hlaing Tharyar, Kyimyindaing, Mayangone and Kawhmu townships complained that they could not cast EAM votes.

“The electoral commission has responsibility for the loss of their voting rights because they are identified as ethnically Karen in their national identity cards and household registrations,” he said.

Similar problems occurred in the 2015 general election.

U Zaw Win, the chairman of Yangon’s Thaketa Township election sub-commission, said the body acted lawfully and followed instructions from the township and regional commissions as anyone not on the voter list cannot vote.

“We displayed the voter lists twice [to check for errors and make corrections]. The problems arise when voters do not check the lists,” he said.

Some voters in Shan State’s Taunggyi and Muse townships were unable to vote for their Bamar EAM candidate for Shan State.

Daw Win Yi from Taunggyi said she did not get the ballot for the candidate and had lost her rights to vote.

U Than Zaw Oo, a secretary at the Taunggyi district election sub-commission, told The Irrawaddy that some errors had been reported but those on the voter lists and voter-registration slip had been able to vote.

Nyein Nyein, Zue Zue, Zin Lin Htet and Aung Thiha contributed to this report.

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