Members of Religious Orders Should Have Right to Vote, Myanmar’s Cardinal Bo Says

By San Yamin Aung 7 February 2020

YANGON—The Archbishop of Yangon, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, has appealed to Myanmar’s government to repeal a constitutional provision barring members of religious orders from voting in elections, as it considers reforms to the charter.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the cardinal said that ahead of the upcoming general election he wished to voice his concern over the Constitution’s Article 392(a), which denies members of religious orders including Buddhist monks and nuns, Catholic priests and nuns, other Christian clergy and Hindu priests the right to vote.

“As Cardinal, I can make statements and speeches and encourage citizens to vote, but I am myself barred from voting,” he said in a message released on Thursday.

Cardinal Bo, the leader of Myanmar’s Catholic community, said the prohibition was extremely unusual and he wasn’t aware of any other democracy that enforced such a law.

“We religious leaders are also citizens of Myanmar,” he said.

Under Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution and the country’s electoral laws, members of religious orders—including more than 526,000 Buddhist monks and 67,000 nuns (according to 2018 data) and more than 4,000 Catholic priests, nuns and catechists (2016 data)—as well as persons serving prison terms, persons determined to be of unsound mind and bankrupt persons are among those ineligible to vote or run in elections.

Prior to the last general election in 2015, some Buddhist nationalist groups demanded voting rights for monks, which has not been allowed in the country since before independence. The aim of the prohibition was to avoid monks’ involvement in social affairs and violations of monastic precepts.

The Southeast Asian nation, which was for more than five decades beleaguered by military rule, saw its first democratically elected civilian government come to power after the 2015 general election, and is planning to hold its next general election late this year.

Cardinal Bo, who is also the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, reminded people that voting is a sacred duty.

“With patience, the people of Myanmar need to invest their faith in democracy through vigorous participation in the next election,” he said.

The Cardinal said that as a religious leader, it is not his duty to tell voters which parties or leaders to support. However, he said, as a country steeped in a great religious tradition and where religious leaders serve as moral guides, it is the duty of every religious leader to encourage all citizens to vote for the leader and party of their choice.

He urged Myanmar citizens to identify those political candidates who actively support the realization of peace, reconciliation, harmony among communities, non-discrimination, human development and health.

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