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You are here: Feature S.H.A.N. Monks, workers and political prisoners denied the vote

Monks, workers and political prisoners denied the vote

The 2008 constitution bars many groups from taking part in the national elections planned for November 7th.....

The 2008 constitution bars many groups from taking part in the national elections planned for November 7th. These people include religious leaders, political prisoners, ethnic people denied identity cards, and millions of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand.

Ko Tate Naing, from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), says the 2010 election and party registration laws ban political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, from standing for election or belonging to a political party.

“Political prisoners need to be able to freely participate in the political process and more importantly, national reconciliation. The current election laws aimed at disqualifying political prisoners are an unsurprising ploy to restrict all opposition groups,” he said.

The 2008 constitution also bars religious leaders from voting.

Humanitarian groups estimate there are between two and three million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand. Many of these workers will not return to Burma to participate in the election because it is difficult, expensive, and they have not received any election materials from the regime.

Sai Poon, is a migrant worker who says he won’t be voting. The 39 year-old lives with his wife and seven-year-old son in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Sai Poon, who  is from Lashio, the capital of Shan State north, said he earns about 150 baht ($4.76) a day as a farm laborer.

“I’m almost 40. I have never voted. If I didn’t work in Thailand I wouldn’t know anything about elections. I won’t be voting. The military regime wants to control all Burma, including Shan State. They will try many ways to win this election. It’s difficult for people in Burma to travel. We cannot say what we think because we are afraid. Even when we are sleeping, we think the military is coming for us if we hear the dog bark.”

Many people in Burma are confused about the elections. They don’t know if they are eligible to vote. The 2008 Constitution clearly states that religious leaders, such as monks, are not allowed to vote.

Sao Pannya, is a 34-year-old monk from Shan State South’s, Mongkeung Township .  He does not know if monks can vote or not.

“I don’t know if the regime has barred monks from voting, but even if I was allowed I would not vote.”

Section 392 of the constitution states monks, pastors, Christian priests, Muslim clergy and people serving prison sentences are not eligible to vote.

The constitution is clear in its intention to remove monks from politics, especially after thousands of monks took to the streets to protest during the 2007 Saffron Revolution.

Sao Dhamma, 37, is a monk from Shan State South who says, “Monks are often more interested in politics than ordinary people.”

Dhamma says he spoke to many villagers and monks as he traveled around Shan State, and villagers were not well informed about politics. He says monks are a good source of information because they are traveling from place to place with fewer restrictions, nine months of the year.

“The people trust monks. We hold discussions about culture, human rights, education, agriculture, and now that it is election time, there will be discussions about politics.”

He noticed the USDP were allowed to campaign freely, unlike the SNDP and other parties who had to get permission from local authorities.

“Local authorities were urging the people to vote for the USDP candidates.”

The 2008 constitution and local authorities have given the USDP an unfair election advantage over its local political rivals, according to members of other parties.