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Sitting MP blocked from running again

By Wa Lone and Laignee Barron
August 24, 2015

The Union Election Commission has blocked a serving MP – a self-described Rohingya from Rakhine State – from standing as a candidate in the November 8 election.

U Shwe Maung’s bid to re-contest his Pyithu Hluttaw seat with the Union Solidarity and Development Party was rejected, so he decided to register instead as an independent candidate.

“I am running to continue my politics. I have been working for people who are badly in need of citizenship rights,” he said.

But like the largely stateless Muslim minority group he represents, U Shwe Maung is up against junta-era citizenship laws slammed by the UN for being despotic and discriminatory. The election commission office in Maungdaw sent a letter to the MP on August 22 notifying him that he is ineligible to run as his parents were not citizens when he was born, a claim he denies. A political rival from the Rakhine National Party, U Aung Thaung Shwe, filed the complaint that precipitated the commission’s decision.

The Maungdaw commission office yesterday confirmed the sitting MP had been disqualified based on his parents’ lack of citizenship. The decision raises questions about the vetting process in 2010, when U Shwe Maung was cleared to run under the same law.

U Khin Soe, director of the Rakhine State immigration office, said the election commission and the district immigration officials were cooperating to decide who should be eligible to contest the elections.

“How he became an MP [in 2010] depends on the scrutiny by the previous election commission – but it is not good to talk about it,” he said.

Maungdaw district immigration officer U Saw Naing said he was involved in investigating U Shwe Maung’s citizenship. He refused however to go into the details yesterday.

U Shwe Maung said the decision is incorrect as he, his parents and his grandparents are all Myanmar citizens. He plans to appeal the decision with the Rakhine State election commission in Sittwe.

“The accusation is not true. Both my parents received National Registration Cards in 1957 when that was the only ID that existed,” he said. “It is very clear we’re citizens.”

U Shwe Maung, who was born in 1965, said his father, Abdul Hadi, was born in 1918 and served as a police officer in Rakhine State until retiring in 1978.

“Most current MPs were born before 1982 [when the citizenship law came into force] so they would likely also hold the same National Registration Cards,” he said.

He suspects deadly sectarian clashes between Rakhine and Rohingya that erupted across the state in 2012 spurred the ruling party and commission to undermine his candidacy.

According to U Shwe Maung one other Rakhine State candidate has been facing the same problem: Daw Khin Khin Lwin, an independent running for an Amyotha Hluttaw seat in Buthidaung. “The one distinct thing about us is that we are Muslims,” he said.

Even if U Shwe Maung successfully appeals his disqualification, his Rohingya electoral base has been stripped of their identity cards and most have been left off updated voter lists.

“It is all very concerning,” he said. “I will have to take one issue at a time.”

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