Myanmar election, Rohingya minority and a lesson for M’sia
Myanmar held its general election yesterday where 30 million citizens out of a population of 53.7 million are eligible to vote. Only ¾ of the 664 seats in Parliament however are up for grabs as ¼ are reserved for the military, unelected.
The votes are being counted now. Aung San Suu Kyi leads the opposition National League for Democracy (NDL) and her party is expected to win. Nonetheless, she can’t become president even if it does.
In 2008, the military junta introduced a new constitution which included an article that says anyone who is married to a foreign citizen or whose children are foreigners cannot become president or vice president.
The prohibition is popularly believed to have been written with the view to bar Suu Kyi from ever ascending to the presidency. Suu Kyi’s late husband was an omputih (below) and furthermore, she has two British sons.
Restricted democracy and marginalized minority
In its FAQ guide to the Myanmar election, the New York Times raises the following question – How much influence does the military have?
The answer: A lot.
“The military appoints a quarter of all lawmakers, one of the three nominees for president, the powerful home minister, the defense minister and the minister of border affairs.”
More interesting for us is the following question – Will Myanmar’s ethnic minorities be able to vote?
According to the New York Times:
“Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority, have been excluded from voter lists this year amid a wider government-led effort to disenfranchise them.”
Native Burmans in Rakhine reject the Rohingya
, a former general, oversaw his government’s persecution of disenfranchised Rohingya ethnic minority, said the New York Times.
refuses to recognize the Rohingya and instead refers to them as Bengali, i.e. a pendatang race originating from the province of Bengal in the neighbouring Indian sub-continent.
“We will take responsibilities for our ethnic people but it is impossible to accept the illegally entered Rohingyas who are not our ethnicity,” article on 31 July 2012.is quoted as saying by the International Business Times in its
To put it simply, thewants them to just go away.
Dapsters should note what the Myanmar President said above about the IMPOSSIBILITY of accepting immigrants who do not belong to the ethnicity and religion of the majority.
Rohingya – Myanmar’s stateless race and religion minority
The Rohingya are classified by the government of Myanmar as “stateless Bengali Muslims from neighbouring Bangladesh”.
Myanmar Immigration Minister Thein Htay said the Rohingya had no claim to citizenship and were not included among the country’s more than recognized 130 ethnic races. See ‘Rohingyas are not citizens: Myanmar minister‘ (The Hindu, 30 July 2012).
Estimated to number one million, many Rohingya were disenfranchised by the country’s 1982 Citizenship Act. In recent years, they’re the victims of communal violence.
British colonial rule saddled Burma with unwanted immigrants
There was a mass migration of the Muslims from Bengal to Arakan/Rakhine as a transient workforce during the period of colonial economy. Rakhine, where the Muslims of Myanmar live, is a state bordering Bangladesh that was known as Arakan in the past.
According to the CIA Factbook, Myanmar has a four percent Rakhine ethnic minority (comprising both Buddhists and Muslims).
The Rohingya (above, below) emigrated to Burma following the opening of borders. They started entering Arakan following a series of British victories in the Anglo-Burmese wars in 1824-26, 1852, 1885.
In 1886, Burma was annexed to India as a province of the British India colonial empire and only separated from India in 1937. Burma becoming a British colony created the problem of unwanted immigrants belonging to foreign races.
Lingering legacy of colonialism spanning future generations
In 1958 (one decade after Burma’s Independence in 1948), there were an estimated 700,000 Indian and 300,000 Chinese aliens in Burma. Both these races had been encouraged by the British to emigrate to Burma as cheap labour.
The Chinese in Burma had their own schools. See ‘Indians and Chinese in Burma‘ (The Atlantic magazine, February 1958 issue).
Unlike the Chinese and Indians in Malaysia, the Rohingya (below) in Myanmar do not have the right to vote despite having lived in the country for generations.
Anti-minority sentiments flare up into race riots
From March-May 1942, the Indians fled Burma in a big exodus after the Japanese invaded in World War Two. The Indians were expelled from Burma on large scale in 1962 after the junta seized power through a military coup.
Beginning the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, there were anti-Chinese riots in Burma. One of the consequences was the nationalizing of Chinese schools.
In the last and present decade, native sentiments have turned against the settled Muslims left in Myanmar since the Indians and Chinese have already largely gone away.
Can’t speak Burmese, can’t become citizens
According to the Human Rights Watch in its open letter to President Thein Sein on 13 Jan 2015:
“Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law states that ‘full’ citizens are members of named ‘national races’ (including Arakan, Burman, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, and Shan), or those whose ancestors settled in the country before 1823, the beginning of British occupation of what is now Arakan State. If individuals cannot provide evidence that their ancestors settled in Burma before 1823, and if they are not of a national race, the law denies them full citizenship.
“The law designates three categories of citizens: (1) full citizens, (2) associate citizens, and (3) naturalized citizens.
“Foreigners may become naturalized citizens if they can provide ‘conclusive evidence’ that they or their parents entered and resided in Burma prior to independence in 1948. Persons who have at least one parent who holds one of the three types of Burmese citizenship are also eligible to become naturalized citizens.
“Beyond this qualification, section 44 of the 1982 Citizenship Law requires that a person seeking to become a naturalized citizen must be at least 18-years-old, able to speak one of the national languages well (the Rohingya language is not recognized as a national language), of good character, and of sound mind. The UN Human Rights Committee has long expressed concern over stringent language criteria for citizenship.”
Umno should really start living up to its “racist”, “extremist” credentials
Muslims make up about five percent of the Myanmar population. Yet Suu Kyi’s NLD is not fielding any Muslim candidate, said Al-Jazeera in an Oct 29 feature.
Al-Jazeera said “15 Rohingya candidates were barred in August from running, again on account of their parents being ‘foreign-born’.” It also reported that about 700,000 people, mostly Rohingya, have been made ineligible when they were declared as holders of ‘white cards’ who cannot vote.
Aside from the Rohingya, other Myanmar Muslims have also been sidelined from their country’s election process.
“In a September statement, the US State Department noted that Myanmar’s election commission had disqualified about 100 candidates, mostly Muslims”, said a Nov 3 Reuters report.
Myanmar’s Muslims are furthermore regarded by officialdom as either ethnic Indian or Pakistani.
“Increasingly, Muslims have been told to register their race as Indian or Pakistani, regardless of whether that is true, in order to obtain national registration cards, which are necessary for both voting and travel abroad.” – see ‘Myanmar: Muslims at risk of exclusion from historic election‘ (Christian Today, 3 Nov 2015).
Al-Jazeera opines, “The country has no reliable opinion polls, but it is expected that parties based along ethnic lines would win most seats”.
Something for Malaysians who are deeply in denial to chew on.