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Myanmar monk wants foreigners' offspring banned from poll

(Photo: Reuters)

By Joshua Carroll
August 26, 2015

An influential Myanmar Buddhist monk famous for his firebrand anti-Muslim speeches has said he will push to get “descendants of foreigners” banned from standing in elections ahead of a Nov. 8 poll that has been billed as a key test of the country’s reforms.

Ashin Wirathu, who has been accused of stoking anti-Muslim tensions that have erupted into deadly riots in recent years, told the Myanmar Times Wednesday that allowing “non-national citizens who are descendants of foreigners” into parliament is “dangerous”.

His comments come after Muslim MPs were blocked from running in the upcoming poll on the grounds that their parents were not citizens, a claim they deny. Earlier this year hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were also barred from voting, sparking an outcry from rights groups.

Wirathu warned that the people of Myanmar were too “dim-witted” to prevent foreign interests from taking control of parliament, the report said.

November’s election is set to be the first to be contested by the pro-democracy opposition in the country for 25 years, but critics say it is unlikely to be fully free and fair.

Myanmar officially regards its roughly one million Rohingya Muslims as “Bengalis” -- interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh -- and the government has acquiesced to demands from hardliners to exclude them from a nationwide census and withdraw the documents that granted them voting rights.

In 2010, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party actively courted the Rohingya vote and allowed Rohingya candidates to run under its banner.

Since then hate speech against Muslims, including non-Rohingya with full citizenship, has escalated as restrictions on freedom of expression have eased.

Ashin Wirathu has spearheaded the anti-Muslim movement, preaching that Buddhism, the majority religion, is under threat from foreign Muslims.

He is a prominent leader in Ma Ba Tha, an ultra-nationalist group that recently succeeded in pushing a series of controversial laws through parliament aimed at “protecting” Buddhism.

“Our national people are dim-witted. When the descendants of foreigners who are sharp-witted enter parliament they will push through laws that benefit the interests of their people,” he told the Myanmar Times.

He added: “We, Ma Ba Tha and some political parties, plan to help by amending the candidate selection requirements in the constitution.”

He said he wanted to replace the word “citizen” in the charter with the phrase “national ethnics” -- Myanmar officially recognizes 135 ethnic groups, but the list does not include the Rohingya.

Tens of thousands from the group have fled persecution by boat since being targeted in mob violence in 2012.

The exodus recently erupted into a regional crisis when human traffickers abandoned thousands of people at sea following a crackdown by Thai authorities.

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