Election 2020

Thousands of Myanmar Fishermen Denied Chance to Vote

By Salai Thant Zin 5 November 2020

Pathein, Ayeyarwady Region — Nearly 9,000 fishermen in Pyapon Township, Ayeyarwady Region, will not vote in the Nov. 8 election as they have been at sea since the fishing season started in September.

There are 8,851 fishermen officially registered with Ayeyarwady Region Fisheries Department on rafts off Pyapon, where the main business is fishing.

As the fishermen were not able to check voter lists and they went to sea before the electoral bodies organized early voting, they will lose their voting rights as the rafts have no plan to return to shore on Nov. 8.

U Thein Swe, a National League for Democracy candidate for the regional parliament in Pyapon, told The Irrawaddy: “The fishermen are not all residents as many are migrants. If they are on the voter lists, they can cast ballots on election day. But if they are at sea on election day, they cannot vote. The nature of the job makes it difficult for them to vote.”

Fishermen on rafts at sea off Pyapon. / Salai Thant Zin / The Irrawaddy

The rafts in Pyapon attract thousands of migrants from other parts of Ayeyarwady and the country.

The regional Fisheries Department said it granted 202 fishing raft licenses for the 2020-21 fishing season. A license includes the operation of 10 rafts and a tugboat.

There are 2,020 fishing rafts operating this season with 8,851 personnel.

Normally, rafts leave in September and return to shore in April.

Ayeyarwady Region Sub-Election Commission chairman U Aung Myint said: “We have not received instructions regarding voting by fishermen. If the issue is raised, we will report it to the Union Election Commission.”

Fishermen on rafts at sea off Pyapon. / Salai Thant Zin / The Irrawaddy

Raft owners said they have difficulties bringing the rafts back to shore for voting on Nov. 8.

A raft owner in Naukmee village, who asked not to be named, said: “We give advance payments for five months before they went to sea so their families can make ends meet. So if the fishermen run away when we bring them to shore to vote, it will cause a lot of trouble. So it is inconvenient for us to bring them back to shore.”

Pyapon is Myanmar’s main producer of fish paste, dried fish and shrimp.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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