The Irrawaddy

Still No Date for Release of Census Findings on Ethnic Populations

An ethnic Shan woman, wearing the colours of the Shan National flag on her face, attends the 69th Shan State National Day celebration at Loi Tai Leng on the Thai-Myanmar border in February, 2016.

YANGON— There is still no timeframe for the release of long-withheld ethnic population data from the 2014 census, Minister of Labor, Immigration and Population U Thein Swe told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Replying to a question from Upper House lawmaker Siang Awi about when the government would reveal the figures, U Thein Swe said further negotiations and consultations with ethnic community leaders and representatives, historians, anthropologists and cultural experts were needed to finalize the terminology and classifications of the ethnic groups.

The country’s first nationwide census in more than 30 years allowed the respondents to choose from among 135 officially recognized ethnicities that were grouped under eight major “ethnic races” — Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin, Mon, Burman, Rakhine and Shan.

It is doubtful there really are 135 ethnic groups, Siang Awi, an ethnic Chin, said, noting that while there were 53 tribes listed under the Chin group, there were actually only six.

“The public is eager to know the figures for the ethnic populations as this was the first census since 1983,” he told the parliament.

Due to the sensitivity of the data, publication of the findings on the country’s religious and ethnic populations was initially delayed while most of the other census results were released in May 2015, revealing Myanmar’s total population to be more than 51 million.

The data on religion was released in late July 2016 but the ethnic population figurers continued to be withheld.

Even before the census was conducted in March and April of 2014, the question about ethnicity was one of the most controversial elements in the survey.

U Thein Swe said the ministry had received complaints about the terminology, classifications and spelling of the names of the ethnic groups, before and after the census was conducted.

He said for example, there were those who claimed there aren’t 12 tribes in Kachin State, but only six, while in Karen State there were also claims that no 12 tribes existed.

He also added that in Chin State, some claimed there are not 53 tribes.

“Only after we have settled the controversies, will we release the findings,” the minister said.