Asean group condemns Myanmar election

Charles Santiago

A group of Southeast Asian political leaders claims Myanmar’s government has ensured Sunday’s general election cannot be considered inclusive or credible.

The Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, a collective of politicians from the regional organisation working to improve rights and justice, said the elections were “profoundly undermined by government decisions”.

“Regardless of what happens on Election Day, fundamental flaws, which have gone unaddressed, mean that this vote cannot be considered free, fair, inclusive or credible,” said APHR chairperson and Malaysian MP Charles Santiago, according to the body’s statement.

The organisation pointed to disenfranchisement, “deliberate” exclusion of specific ethnic and religious minorities and failure to amend the 2008 military-drafted constitution as factors “preventing the election from constituting a true reflection of the will of the Myanmar people”.

“International observers will likely harp on technical aspects of Sunday’s vote. But even if everything goes perfectly on that front – a highly unlikely outcome –decisions by the government have already rendered this contest far short of real democracy,” Mr Santiago added.

The APHR said the numerous Muslim candidates had been disqualified earlier this year, showing the authorities were “targeting” the minority. “In the context of a political environment, that has vilified Muslims and allowed hate speech to proliferate,” he said.

The regional body criticised the decision this year to remove voting rights from temporary identification card holders, who had been allowed to participate in previous elections, as it “deprived hundreds of thousands of the opportunity to take part in the political process”.

“We hoped consistent warnings from the international community would spur the Myanmar government to change course and embrace inclusivity and necessary constitutional reform,” Mr Santiago said. “Unfortunately, this has not happened, and it means that the people of Myanmar have been robbed of an opportunity to embrace real democratic change.”

Barriers to voting for domestic and overseas migrant workers, as well as the cancellation of voting in nearly 600 village tracts in conflict zones, which denied thousands an opportunity to elect their representatives.

Parties point out the conflicts have been caused by recent government offensives into rebel-held territory.

“Elections are about constituents choosing leaders to represent them. But in this case, too many constituents are not being permitted to make that choice,” Mr Santiago said.

In an opinion piece, ABC also pointed to the murky nature of the election. Damien Kingsbury wrote: “There is a widespread view that the NLD [National League for Democracy] will easily be the most successful party in the elections but, ironically, it may still struggle to form government and could not choose its own leader as its presidential candidate.

“The two fundamental problems that confront the NLD are that, under the 2008 constitution, a person with relatives living abroad cannot stand for president. “[Aung San] Suu Kyi’s sons live in the UK and the restriction is widely seen as an anti-Suu Kyi measure.

“The second problem is that 75 per cent of both houses of parliament is required to change the constitution. As 25 per cent of parliamentary seats are reserved for the military, it retains effective veto over constitutional change, including whether it should retain parliamentary seats or have power of veto.”


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