MYANMAR’S national elections — after the first since 2015 when the National League for Democracy had a landslide victory by way of which Myanmar emerged from outright military rule and the second contested election since 1990 when the military annulled the overwhelming victory of the National League for Democracy — scheduled for November 8 has failed to offer any glimmer of hope for many marginalised ethnic minority groups in the country’s conflict-plagued regions as Myanmar’s election commission in the past week announced the list of constituencies where voting will not take place. The decision leaves more than a million disenfranchised in Rakhine and hundreds of thousands more elsewhere. The decision comes as devastating to most ethnic minority groups, in general, but this also comes as a Myanmar government’s attempt at extinguishing the identity of the Rohingya people, in particular, with 600,000 of them still living in Myanmar, mostly in Rakhine. This also further frustrates a sustainable repatriation of the Rohingyas now sheltered in Bangladesh. Some 860,000 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh fleeing murder, arson and rape during security operations by Myanmar’s military in Rakhine beginning in August 2017 to join some others having already lived here since the late 1970s, taking the total number of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh to more than 1.1 million.
Although the Myanmar decision leaves the Rohingyas, especially the Rohingya Muslims, unaffected as they have already been disenfranchised, having had their citizenship and rights stripped away over decades, especially by way of the 1982 Citizenship Law, the decision may entrap many of the minorities, including the Mro, Khami and Diangnet, the way the Rohingyas faced the issues. All the issues together could grow into a fully-blown global problem the way the Rohingya issues did. But the decision of Myanmar certainly frustrates efforts for the repatriation of the Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh in an environment where Myanmar authorities have employed various tactics to spread falsehood, to deflect international pressure and to create a fearful situation in Rakhine. The process of the repatriation of the Rohingyas to Rakhine has been left unattended for some time because of Myanmar, which has resorted to various means such as a near discontinuation of the clearance for refugees to get back to their homeland and an unwillingness to meet the bilateral joint working group and the tripartite mechanism that is led by China. Myanmar’s decision not to hold election to constituencies inhabited mostly by marginalised ethnic minority groups should be in focus of the international community, warranting international efforts to mount pressure on Myanmar to tread back on its decision and to afford full rights to marginalised minorities, including the Rohingyas, as citizens.
A blatant denial of minority representation in Myanmar’s general election, as the Burma Human Rights Network terms it calling for a reversal of the decision, could result in outcomes in the long run that may not be agreeable to world leaders. The international community and the United Nations, the forum of world leaders, must, therefore, keep the Myanmar election issues in focus and mount pressure on Myanamr to make a reversal of the decision.
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