Over 100 election hopefuls – mostly minority candidates – were knocked out of the running in the Union Election Commission’s final list, with citizenship status by far the most common stumbling block.
The final list was short 124 rejected candidates, according to the commission’s announcement on September 11.
November’s election, promised to be the most free and fair in over half a century, prompted a deluge of applicants; 6189 potential candidates representing 92 political parties as well as independent pollsters submitted their credentials to the UEC. After an application and scrutiny period complicated by devastating floods, the UEC’s delayed list enumerated 6065 candidates, with the ruling party one of just a few to have escaped the district commission’s inspection unscathed.
While there are 1171 constituencies to vie for, 12 openings in restive Shan State were left vacant with no politicians applying to run.
The commission appears not to have reversed any of its decisions on disqualified candidates despite a slew of appeals and accusations that the election body was discriminating against opposition parties and minorities.
During the commission’s scrutiny process, complaints regarding Muslim candidates scrubbed from the list came to the fore. Around one-third of those disqualified were Muslim applicants mainly hailing from Rakhine State. Some Muslim parties lost out entirely, with all potential representatives cut from the heat following citizenship complaints filed by their political rivals and leaving the possibility that Muslim-majority areas may next year be represented by ethnic Rakhine natives.
Candidates from the National League for Democracy and a handful of other parties were rejected on the grounds of not meeting a 10-year residency requirement.
The election commission was not able to specify yesterday how many Muslim candidates remained to represent a group that officially makes up 4 percent of the population, and by other measures constitutes a much larger bloc.
“Our scrutiny process was based only on the election law’s requirements, and was not based on race or religion,” U San Tun Win, an election officer in Maungdaw district told The Myanmar Times.
He added that most rejected candidates did not meet the criteria of sections 8 and 10 of the election laws, which state respectively that the candidate’s parents must be citizens at the time of the candidate’s birth, and that the candidate must have lived continuously in the country for the past 10 years.
While the election laws were levied against Muslim candidates following citizenship queries, a similar, National League for Democracy objection about an ethnically Chinese ruling party candidate was ignored. While immigration officials admitted to not having conducted a thorough background check on Minister for the President’s Office U Thein Nyunt, the district election officials said the complaint was filed too late to be taken into consideration.
The Muslim candidates were struck from the list amid growing fervour from hardline nationalist groups like Ma Ba Tha, which promoted votes for only “national ethnic” contestants as opposed to “foreigners”.
The pleas, appeals, and mountains of paperwork proffered by the Muslim candidates’ parties were of no avail – most were kicked out of appeal “hearings” in under a minute with no time to even state their case.
The National Development and Peace Party lost all six of its candidates, while 16 were cut from the Democracy and Human Rights Party, leaving only one to contest a Yangon Region Hluttaw seat in Paebadan township. Five from the National Development Democratic Party also were rejected, but one candidate will run for a Pyithu Hluttaw seat in Thingankyuan Township. At least two independent Muslim bidders were also dropped.
“Blocking us from the election might depend on the government’s policy, but it is certainly not based on the election laws,” said U Zaw Min, chair of the National Development and Peace Party.
“We have sent complaints not only to the states-level but also appealed at the Union level … but our documents are useless to them,” he said.
The largest opposition party, the National League for Democracy, did not field a single Muslim candidate among its over 1000 submissions, but did drop 8 candidates on the final list.
“Most were rejected due to issues with their residency status, though some were rejected because they are under the required age,” said U Win Htein, a senior party member.
According to the US-based Carter Center, which is monitoring Myanmar’s polls, the exclusion of Muslim residents and the growing anti-Islamic hate speech could undermine the November 8 election, and lead to flare-ups of violence.