Friday, August 18, 2017

Electoral officials ignore citizenship complaint against Union minister

A Union government minister has been cleared to stand for election despite claims that he fails to meet citizenship criteria.

Minister for the President’s Office U Thein Nyunt attends a meeting with Chinese ambassador Hong Liang in August. Photo: Chinese EmbassyMinister for the President’s Office U Thein Nyunt attends a meeting with Chinese ambassador Hong Liang in August. Photo: Chinese Embassy

Election commission officials concede they did not conduct a thorough background check on Minister for the President’s Office U Thein Nyunt, but say it is too late now to consider rejecting his candidacy.

The citizenship criteria has already knocked dozens of opposition and minority party election hopefuls, including possibly all Muslim candidates, out of the running for seats in the November 8 vote.

U Thein Nyunt’s bid to contest Maubin township for the Union Solidarity and Development Party was challenged by a complaint filed on August 28 that claims his parents were Chinese citizens at the time of his birth.

But the former Tatmadaw officer, who is also mayor of Nay Pyi Taw and won the same seat in the 2010 election, sailed through the vetting process without a hitch.

“The district election commission passed him without vetting him very seriously because he is a USDP candidate,” said U Sein Win, the National League for Democracy candidate for Maubin, who filed the complaint.

The election commission has been accused of using the citizenship rules to knock out opponents of the USDP, particularly those candidates disliked by ultra-hardline Buddhist nationalist groups.

While some parties lost nearly all their candidates, the USDP has passed through the scrutiny period unscathed.

According to the complaint letter, U Thein Nyunt’s parents moved to Myanmar from China. The minister was born in 1948 and his father died in 1952, without ever taking up Myanmar citizenship.

Candidates are not eligible to stand for a parliamentary seat if their parents were not citizens at the time of the candidate’s birth.

Ko Thant Zin, a resident of Maubin township, said the complaint was accurate in its description of U Thein Nyunt’s foreign lineage. U Thein Nyunt’s father’s name was U Oun Whett, and his mother name is Daw Jinying, the local said.

“They were Chinese,” he said.

U Kyaw Myint, the chair of the Maubin election commission, told The Myanmar Times that he would not reconsider U Thein Nyunt’s candidacy because the complaint was received after the vetting process finished.

“We already approved [U Thein Nyunt]. We found he was accepted by the immigration officers, but we will make a record of the complaints,” U Kyaw Myint said.

The district commission office examined candidates contesting Maubin township on August 18. The vetting committee consisted of 10 members of the district election commission, four government officials from the immigration department and six township leaders respected by residents.

U Kyaw Win, deputy chief of the township immigration office in Maubin, admitted to only a cursory examination of U Thein Nyunt’s biographical data during the scrutiny process.

“We just checked his documents – that does not mean we thoroughly investigated [whether he was eligible],” he said.

He refused to confirm that U Thein Nyunt’s father was a citizen when the minister was born.

“We will not release anyone’s personal information without permission,” U Kyaw Win said.

According to the Union Election Commission Law, a person cleared to stand for election who is later found to be ineligible can be disqualified and may also be charged with a criminal offence.

U Ko Ko, the chair of the Yangon Region election commission, said that if the district officials were found later to have “intentionally passed a candidate who should have been disqualified”, then legal action should be taken “according to the UEC Law”.

But U Sein Win, the NLD candidate who filed the complaint, claimed that the immigration office in Maubin township refused to look too closely at U Thein Nyunt’s background because they were under orders from a higher authority to approve him.

The Nay Pyi Taw mayor’s office did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

U Zaw Htay, a spokesperson for the President’s Office, declined to comment on U Thein Nyunt’s personal background or the election commission’s decision to approve him.

“You should ask the Union Election Commission,” he said.

However, UEC chair U Tin Aye said last week that head office would not interfere with election sub-commissions’ decisions on candidate vetting, which would be final.