Former Political Prisoner Allowed to Run For Rangoon Office

By San Yamin Aung 26 November 2014

RANGOON — Win Cho, a former political prisoner and renowned rights activist, has been approved as an eligible candidate for upcoming municipal elections in Rangoon after appealing an initial rejection by the city’s election commission.

The 57-year-old activist was at first denied the right to contest on the grounds that he “provided incorrect biographical information” on his candidacy application by omitting time he spent in prison on political charges. The decision was overturned by the commission on Monday.

The city’s election law prohibits “criminals” from seeking office, hence the rejection was worrisome for many of Burma’s politically ambitious former dissidents because many of them served as prisoners of conscience under the previous military regime.

“I didn’t provide an untruthful biography. I didn’t mention my prison sentences because I didn’t think it was necessary,” said Win Cho, explaining that because he is not currently incarcerated or facing any further charges, he should not be required to disclose himself as a criminal.

Win Cho said that he appealed the decision on the grounds that it was a “misunderstanding,” and that the commission granted him a fair review and ultimately, the right to run for one of 115 vacant seats in the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC).

The YCDC, which is the administrative body for Burma’s largest city and former capital, will hold elections on Dec. 27 for the first time since its establishment more than 50 years ago. The council’s elections commission received 305 candidacy applications, though only 291 qualified.

Win Cho was one of seven deemed ineligible, while seven others withdrew their applications. Maung Maung Tun, who was also initially turned down for falsifying his biography, made the only other appeal and was likewise granted eligibility on Monday.

Candidates have already begun campaigning for seats at the divisional, district and township levels, which have been occupied by military-appointed officials since 1962.

Win Cho hoped to assume one of four highly coveted positions on the Divisional Municipal Committee. Twelve district- and 99 township-level seats are also up for grabs.

Though his competitors got a head start on their campaigns earlier this month, Win Cho said that the delay “will not be a problem,” perhaps because he is already a prominent public figure.

Win Cho was recently released from Insein prison after serving a total of nine months for charges related to unlawful assembly. He has faced dozens of additional charges just this year, and is most well-known for leading demonstrations over power shortages, land rights and human rights violations.