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Muslim parties fear exclusion from election

By Ye Mon
August 27, 2015

With the Union Election Commission slated to wind up its scrutiny of candidates today, Muslim political parties fear their nominees – like some of their voters – will be struck from electoral rolls.

The National Democratic Party for Development plans electoral victory. (Kaung Htet/The Myanmar Times)

At least half-a-dozen independent and opposition party candidates have so far been disqualified, mainly after the citizenship of their parents was called into question. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, meanwhile, said as of yesterday evening it had not dropped a single contestant.

In the 2010 election, the government was accused by election monitors of skewing the scrutinising process in favour of eliminating opposition candidates in areas anticipated to be hotly contested.

Muslim parties in restive Rakhine State are especially worried about this year’s process, after a sitting Muslim MP was cut from the candidate list last week. U Shwe Maung was rejected from the ruling party after serving as a Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Buthidaung for five years.

His bid to re-contest the seat as an independent was blocked after his opponent from the Rakhine National Party – which aims to protect ethnic Rakhine interests – filed a complaint about the MP.

On August 22, the election commission office in Maungdaw sent a letter to U Shwe Maung – who self-identifies as a Rohingya – notifying him that he is ineligible to run as his parents were not citizens when he was born, a claim he denies.

Also known as Abdul Rezak, the MP said a Muslim candidate for the Amyotha Hluttaw, Daw Khin Khin Lwin, had also been disqualified.

Four Muslim parties are contesting seats in Rakhine State and Yangon. But even if the candidates pass through the UEC unscathed, they may still face an uphill battle in November’s poll: As many as 500,000 Muslim voters in Rakhine State were removed from voter lists, according to The New York Times.

U Kyaw Soe Aung, general secretary for the Democracy and Human Rights Party, said yesterday that the sub-commission was still checking the candidates, but so far his party had received no indication its candidates would be disqualified.

“I hope that the laws will protect the Muslim parties,” he said. “But we are worried that the Rakhine parties will [push for our candidates to be] rejected for citizenship reasons.”

The party has entered nominees for 18 constituencies, including 11 regional hluttaw and Pyidaungsu Hluttaw seats in Rakhine State.

Another Muslim party, the Kaman National Development Party, is also worried that its five candidates will be barred from the polls under contentious citizenship issues.

The KNDP’s chair, U Zaw Win, said he fears Muslim representatives will not be allowed to represent Muslim-dominated constituencies.

“The citizenship issue is a big issue currently … I think other candidates will be subjected to disqualification for this reason,” U Zaw Win said yesterday.

The largest opposition party, the National League for Democracy, has been alerted that at least four of its candidates have been disqualified.

U Nyan Win, a spokesperson of the NLD, told The Myanmar Times that the party will appeal the rejections at the sub-commission level.

“Three MPs were told they are ineligible to run as their parents were not citizens at the time of their birth and another one is younger than qualification age, 30, which is prescribed by Amyotha Hluttaw Election Law,” he said.

U Phyo Wai Aung, from Kayah State, was rejected for being under-age – he is currently 29. Two candidates from Shan State and a candidate for Mandalay Region, U Win Myint, were all rejected on the grounds that one or more of their parents were Chinese and not citizens at the time of their birth.

On August 25, the Mandalay Region sub-commission rejected physician U Win Myint’s appeal, but his lawyer said he will appeal to the Union level.

The candidates were not able to comment yesterday on their disqualification, as the NLD has issued a gag order of indeterminate length that bars its candidates from speaking to the media or participating in public debates.

Political commentator U Sithu Aung Myint said the election commission should not misuse the rules and regulations to create biased dismissals of opposition and ethnic minority candidates.

“The election commission has intentionally focused on [scrutinising] the NLD and other opposition parties. But it is not included the ruling party USDP in its disqualifications,” he said.

Union Election Commission deputy director U Hla Maung Cho declined to comment on the issue until the final list of approved candidates is made public.

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