BNI English

Wednesday, Oct 01st

Last update09:48:05 PM GMT

ျမန္မာစာမ်က္ႏွာ
You are here: Feature Kaladan Rohingyas and the forthcoming election

Rohingyas and the forthcoming election

The elections in Burma are going to be held on November 7, 2010. The military- backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is poised to win with a majority of available seats ...

The elections in Burma are going to be held on November 7, 2010. The military- backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is poised to win with a majority of available seats in the new parliament, as the election rules are designed to pave the way for the regime to achieve its desired result.

Campaign activities in northern Arakan State have resumed after a brief respite. Some National Democratic Party for Development (NDPD) members from Rangoon arrived in the north to begin campaigning on October 5.

Additionally, Aung Zaw Win, a candidate from the USDP and accompanied by other party members arrived in Maungdaw in the first week of October for campaign-related activities. Many believe that fighting may result from attempts to organize the people.

During the past year, Rohingyas and the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) have been working together for mutual gains. The SPDC said it will recognize the status of Rohingyas, and Rohingyas are to vote for  the USDP. Rohingyas have no choice but to agree to this arrangement if they hope to achieve state recognition.

Top military leaders have given assurances that travel and marriage restrictions put on Rohingyas will be eased, that nationality cards will be issued, and that Rohingyas will be allowed to build and repair mosques before the elections are held.

Nationality cards were promised before the election so that all Rohingyas would be able to vote, as well as run for office. Rohingyas welcomed this development and were ready to cooperate in reciprocation. This distribution of nationality cards should indeed be very easy for the SPDC to implement as pledged, if genuine and sincere desire on their part exists.

However, things are not developing the way the SPDC has promised, and the regime looks to be distancing itself from their earlier promises.

The process of reconciliatory dialogue with the SPDC has been initiated by some members of the Rohingya community living in Rangoon, led by Aung Zaw Win and Htay Win. They had hope  agreements made with the SPDC would be kept, and a new era could be initiated with regard to the rights and privileges of Rohingyas. The Rohingya community has done its best with utmost sincerity.

The SPDC is well aware that there would be immense international condemnation if Rohingyas were barred from taking part in the election. Giving Rohingyas equal opportunity in politics would help the SPDC to improve their image in the international community, including the Islamic world, and would lessen international pressure with regard to the treatment of the Rohingya community.

The junta finally and officially decided that candidates from both major ethnic communities in Arakan state, Rakhines and Rohingyas, would be eligible to compete in the elections. However, it is still not clear how many Rohingya people will be able to cast ballots, as their citizenship status is still in question.  

So far, the SPDC is not willing to grant citizenship to the Rohingya people, while they maintain that Rohingya people will be able to cast votes and be elected.  

It is feared that after the election, Rohingyas will be in the same boat as before the vote with regard to restriction of movement, confiscation of land, complete lack of education and health assistance, Natala (Model) village settlements, marriage restrictions and other human rights violations.

A Regional Development Association (RDA) was formed in Maungdaw to expedite regional development work, yet no development projects have been initiated. The sincerity of the SPDC is very much in question, with all credit for progress to date belonging to the Rohingya community.  

Now the Rohingyas are facing a dilemma, and there is no way out for them but to continue the process, although with less hope of realizing their lost status through the electoral process

One Rohingya party, the NDPD, is contesting the election in cooperation with the USDP, despite their broken promises. Realizing the lost rights of the Rohingyas after the election will be very difficult, because Rohingya representation in the new parliament will be negligible.

Nine seats are available in Maungdaw District, which includes Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships.The SPDC selected three Rakhine ultra-nationalists and communalist candidates to run as USDP candidates. As a result, Rohingya people from northern Arakan State are hesitant to support the USDP. But, some of the villagers are trying to organize the residents to support the USDP and will have to depend on Aung Zaw Win, the upper house candidate of the USDP, from Maungdaw Township.   

As a result, two Rohingya groups, sensing the ulterior motives of the SPDC, are re-assessing their previous position and steadily taking steps to act against the USDP.

As an alternative, the Rohingya community in Rangoon has formed two political parties, the NDPD and the National Democratic Party for Peace (NDPP). These parties are preparing and campaigning to contest in Arakan State after receiving permission from relevant SPDC authorities.

Earlier, the USDP got more support from the people of northern Arakan before other parties had received permission to campaign. Rohingyas in Arakan State are now more inclined to support community-based political parties, as these parties are free to adopt the policies of their choice and will work for the welfare of the voters.

The NDPD is a party with broad Rohingya representation, which contests a total of 28 Constituencies. Twenty five constituencies are in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedoung, Kyauktaw, Sittwe, Minbya and Mrohaung townships in Arakan State. The remaining three consituencies are contesting in Rangoon proper, where considerable Muslim communities of different ethnicities live.

Following the unrelenting efforts of NDPD candidates to contest in  Rohingya-minority towns such as Sittwe, Kyauktaw, Myinbya, Mrohaung and others, some of the Rakhine political parties, as well as some racist Rakhine leaders, have made many attempts to have Rohingya candidates disqualified. However, they were re-instated by the Election Commission (EC), as grounds could not be found for their dismissal according to the rules set by the EC.

The other Rohingya party, the NDPP, is much smaller and has nominated two candidates in Maungdaw and one in Buthidaung.

Although Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships are predominantly Rohingya areas, the NDPD still may face a tough fight against the USDP in these towns. The USDP has placed three Rakhine candidates to run against the Rohingya candidates.  

In Arakan State, excluding Maungdaw and Buthidoung, the remaining 15 townships are being contested by Rakhine community-based political parties where there will be fierce competition from USDP candidates, mostly of Rakhine ethnicity. It is very likely Rakhine voters will choose their own parties, such as the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) and the Rakhine State National Force of Myanmar (RSNF), over the USDP.

The political parties, mainly the USDP and NDPD, have been launching campaigns over the last month in their respective constituencies of Maungdaw District.

The Maungdaw District Peace and Development Council( DPDC) and the Maungdaw Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) chairmen have already directed the Village Peace and Development Council (VPDC) chairmen to work for the USDP and to present obstacles to other parties contesting against the USDP, using force if necessary. It has been learned that DPDCs and TPDCs have already directed the VPDCs to work for the USDP and to interfere with the opposition parties running against the USDP, using security forces if needed.

Rakhines are the largest population in the central part of Arakan State, while Rohingyas comprise the largest segment of the population in the northern part of the state. The southern portion of the state has Rakhines and mixed-ethnicity Muslims. During the Second World War, a conspiracy was hatched by Rakhine ultra-nationalists, aided by some Burmese leaders, to drive out Rohingyas from central Arakan State.

At that time, in 1942, nearly 100,000 Rohingyas were killed and more than 300 villages were destroyed and razed to the ground. The embattled Rohingyas had to leave their ancestral homes and seek refuge in the Rohingya-majority northern area of Arakan State. Thus, Rakhines became the majority in the Kaladan and Laymro river basin areas.

After independence, occasionally, the regime uprooted some Rohingya villages from the southern side of Arakan. In 1995, the military government opened Mrohaung historical sites to the world while relocating some Rohingya villages from the vicinity of the sites. More than five hundred households were forcibly evicted and brought to Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships, making them internally displaced persons (IDPs), in front of the eyes of the newly arrived UN High Commissioner for Refugees in northern Arakan State.

These uprooted Rohingyas were never resettled. They hopelessly and helplessly wandered from place to place, with most of them ending up as refugees in Bangladesh and other countries. As Rohingyas concentrated in the north part of the state, the population instantly doubled with the displaced Rohingyas of southern Arakan State.

Regarding the upcoming elections, if Rohingyas are represented beyond northern Arakan, Rakhines will see it as a violation and will resist it.

In the 1990 elections, when Rohingyas contested in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, Rakhines were annoyed. In the coming election on November 7, the NDPD will put up eight candidates in Sittwe and other towns, such as Kyauktaw, Minbya, and Mrohaung.  Once again it has become a controversial issue for the Rakhine community that Rohingyas have returned to take part in politics in the Rakhine heartland.

There are two constituencies in Maungdaw Township and one constituency in Buthidaung Township. The Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships are in Maungdaw District. The USDP party is contesting them all.

In Maungdaw District (Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships), altogether nine constituencies are available. The USDP party put up candidates in each area, with six Rohingyas and three Rakhines receiving the nomination of the party. Out of three Rakhines, two are for Maungdaw and one is for Buthidaung.

The Rakhine candidate U Mra Aung got the nomination for State Parliament, and U Tha Khin got the nomination for the Lower House from Maungdaw. The other candidates for Maungdaw township are Aung Zaw Win, alias Zahir Ahmed ( Upper House), Htay Win, alias Zahidur Rahman (Lower House), and Jahin Gir Alam, alias Aung Myo Myint (State Parliament).

The candidates for Buthidaung Township from the USDP are Maung Aye Tun (Upper House), Shwe Maung (Lower House), Kefayet Ullah (State Parliament) and Dr. Boshir (State Parliament).

The National Unity Party (NUP) nominated four candidates in Maungdaw Township. They are Kyaw Aye (Upper House), Ba Sein (Lower House), U Tun Maung (State Parliament), and Chit Tun Aung (State Parliament). It also nominated four candidates in Buthidaung Township. They are Maung Kyaw Khine (Upper House), Ba Sein (Lower House), Maung Than Shwe (State Parliament), and Tun Aung Sein for State Parliament.

The NDPD nominated five candidates in Maungdaw Township. They are Nurul Haque (Upper House), Soe  Myint, alias Sayedul Amin (Lower House), Tayub Uddin (Lower House), Anight Ullah (State Parliament), and Shaket Ali (State Parliament). The candidates for Buthidaung Township from NDPD are Mostafa Kamal (Upper House), Abu Taher (Lower House), Aung Myint, alias Jahidullah (State Parliament), and Boshir Ahmed (State Parliament).

The NDPP nominated two candidates in south Maungdaw, namely Master Fayazul Haque (State Parliament) and Master Omar Faizal (State Parliament), while Ali Hussain will contest for the Upper House in Buthidaung Township.

People inside Burma jokingly refer to November 7th, not as a “general election”, but as the “generals’ election”, according to an article by Bertil Linter in the Wall Street Journal (October 25).

The general election will be held on November 7, but the constitution on which it is based does not grant ethnic rights, basic human rights or democratic rights. Hence, it will not lead to a unified and peaceful democratic state.

Burma is one of the world’s most secretive, repressive and destructive nations and treats its people accordingly. Junta-backed representatives harass and threaten opposition candidates who are trying against all odds to compete. No international observers will be permitted, and no foreign journalists are being allowed into the country for the election.

Evidence also shows that the ruling junta has also put strict controls and surveillance on opposition political parties and meetings, as well as punishing anyone who speaks against the government. The military-led USDP is using local militia groups to garner votes for the party. Relevant authorities in northern Arakan State have even told local residents to vote for the USDP or local militias will force them to vote for the party.

Residents in Maungdaw in western Burma are being instructed to vote only for candidates of the USDP by the deputy Nasaka Director of Kyi Kann Pyin (Kawar Bill), in Maungdaw Township.

Residents say they are now afraid of supporting the candidates they prefer in the election and that a free and fair election is impossible.
Secret meetings have reportedly been held at which the USDP has been described as the government’s party, and local authorities have been ordered to get their villagers to vote for the USDP.

Threats of future harm or violence have reportedly been made against anyone showing support for other party candidates, and a curfew has been ordered in a section of Maungdaw Township, with fears growing that it could be extended.

Riot police are on the streets of Maundaw, and Nasaka forces are on patrol in every village of the township.

These conditions cannot possibly produce a fair and democratic election, as the SPDC has claimed it would be.

Most people in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships don’t have identity cards. Under these circumstances, it is likely there will be many ghost ballots.

In my opinion, a single majority party that comes to power in the election is not an expression of democracy, but a manipulation of the electoral process, which is at the heart of democracy.

People fear that there will be voter intimidation and vote-rigging on election day, because there will be no international election monitoring. The elections are designed to legalize military rule in Burma under the 2008 constitution, which was written to create a permanent military dictatorship in Burma.  

The SPDC is determined to capture most, if not all, of the contested seats in the national and state parliaments by use of fraud and threats. The election is sham. It will only make the military stronger. The USDP will win. Burma will not change.