Friday, August 18, 2017

Ethnic Mon left off electoral rolls

More than 20,000 voters, mostly ethnic Mon, have lost their right to vote in a single township in Kayin State following a controversial decision that triggered accusations of political bias.

U Soe Win (left) and U Maung Oo from Phoe Ka Thaw village talk with The Myanmar Times on September 18 about being left off the voter list. Photo: Wa Lone / The Myanmar TimesU Soe Win (left) and U Maung Oo from Phoe Ka Thaw village talk with The Myanmar Times on September 18 about being left off the voter list. Photo: Wa Lone / The Myanmar Times

U Kyaw Win Maung, chair of the state’s election sub-commission, said residents of some villages in Kya-In Seikkyi township had not been entered on the electoral lists because of security reasons.

He told The Myanmar Times that “insurgent groups” in that area had warned they would not accept the preliminary voting lists and so the sub-commission could not confirm more than 20,000 voters.

“They cannot vote in this election because we can’t get any confirmation of lists of voters,” he said.

He could not confirm which groups were obstructing the procedure of verifying the electoral register but he accused the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and insurgent groups of threatening village administrators.

The NMSP, the political wing of the Mon National Liberation Army, first signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the government in 1995. The most recent ceasefire pact was signed in 2012, and the NMSP is taking part in nationwide ceasefire talks with the government.

The dispute in a relatively remote area of Kayin State highlights the fears of parties opposed to the military-backed government that “security” issues could be used as a pretext to influence the outcome of the vote, especially in ethnic-controlled border regions.

Kya-In Seikkyi township has a total population of over 106,000, according to the latest census. The more-than-20,000 who were stripped of their right to vote are from 33 villages where, according to local officials, about 80 per cent of the residents are ethnic Mon. Others include ethnic Kayin and Pao.

Some of the villages are under the control of the NMSP and did not vote in the 2010 general elections. The elections were cancelled in almost 50 percent of Kayin State in 2010, including in Kya-In Seikkyi township, according to election watchdog groups.

But Naing Khin Aye, a senior official of the NMSP in Mon State capital Mawlamyine, said the party had guaranteed security in the November 8 general elections. “There are no worries on any issue,” he said.

He said he sent a signed letter to the Karen State sub-commission stating that these areas had no security worries and that they were permitted to hold the election. But the Kayin State election sub-commission chair told The Myanmar Times he had received no such letter.

Naing Chit Oo, the Mon Ethnic Affairs Minister for Kayin State, said he suspected that the commission of being manipulated by a political party afraid of votes going to a rival ethnic Mon party.

“They carried out the referendum in those areas for the 2008 constitution and I didn’t hear of gunfire in the area for 20 years. The commission has no acceptable reason to object to voting,” he said.

Naing Soe Myint, secretary of the Mon National Party, said the commission had disenfranchised 20,000 Mon because it feared they would vote for the MNP.

“They lost their voting rights, and we lost them,” he said.

Villagers held a press conference in Mawlamyine on September 18 to protest. They told The Myanmar Times that the township level election commission had refused to explain why they had been disenfranchised, and also refused to accept letters from people declaring their right and intention to vote in line with the law.

“We are not illegal immigrants, we are residents of Myanmar, we have ID cards. Why have they objected to our voting?” asked Naing Win Shwe, a resident of Myin Wah Gone village.

He said they sent their letters to the Union Election Commission and Kayin State sub-commission but they did not get a response.

“We lost our citizenship rights!” said U Maung Oo, a resident from Lai Kani village.

The Myanmar Times contacted U Thein Tun, secretary of the Kya-In Seikkyi township election sub-commission, for comment but he declined to speak, saying that he was involved in training.

U Ye Aung, deputy director of Kya-In Seikkyi township administration, said they had good connections with the village administrators and that they were implementing rural development projects in those areas while the education ministry was allowed to build a government school. There were no worries of security in those areas, he added.

“I don’t think security is a concern in those areas although they are under NMSP control, because we have reports from village administrators,” he said.