Myanmar amidst decades-long ethnic crises and military rule is going to witness the next election of schedule on 8 November 2020. Historically, it will be the second election after the historic victory of democracy over the 50 years of military rule. The November of 2015 marked a decisive shift in Myanmar’s political landscape when, after a free election, the military-backed USDP lost its majority, and the NLD under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi secured a supermajority in the parliament.
The triumph of NLD raised hopes that Aung San Suu Kyi, a noble laureate on peace, would also stand up for the rights of the Rohingya people who at the time were facing a troubling their decades-long persecution. But all hopes went in vain the Rohingya community has faced a military crackdown genocidal intent.
According to a report published in 2018, a nexus of civilian and military Buddhists executed more than 24,000 Rohingya people and also raped around 18,000 Muslim women; 116,000 were injured, and 36,000 were ablaze. At least 730,000 migrated from Myanmar in 2017 after the military crackdown. The United Nations described it as the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.
Gambia, an African nation located more than 11,500 kilometres from Myanmar, filed a case at the ICJ claiming that a conflict exists between it and Myanmar regarding the interpretation and application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Genocide Convention placed an obligation on states to prevent and punish genocide. Later, Gambia and Myanmar both ratified the 1948 Convention. Based on the Convention, Gambia claimed that the government of Myanmar was treating the Rohingya population to the level of genocidal acts.
During the trial of Gambia v/s Myanmar case, before the International Court of Justice Myanmar’s prime minister appeared as a defender of military and defended the genocide against Rohingya. She justified the crackdown as a mere internal armed conflict. This defence of genocide at the world’s highest court demonstrates Aung San Suu Kyi’s willingness to cooperate and support the military in return for mutual support in reigning over Myanmar.
Ironically, Myanmar, a Buddhist majority state, does not recognize the term Rohingya as an Indigenous ethnic group. Instead, they are ridiculed as Bengalis, who are undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh, despite tracing their history in Myanmar. Moreover, successive military governments that ruled Myanmar stripped the Rohingya of identity documents, leaving many with no proof of their origins. The current government continues to oppress the community; they force the Rohingya to accept National Verification Cards (NVCs), which require them to identify as “foreigners,” effectively erasing their identity and right to citizenship.
Now, as political parties gear up their campaigns, it has become clear that the Rohingya are not able to participate in the next election. There are estimated 600,000 Rohingya in the country but are not recognized as citizens under laws. Providing that, until the 2010 election, any Rohingya who had a temporary registration certificate were able to vote which was nullified before the 2015 election.
This attitude of Myanmar’s government must compel the international community to show concern about the upcoming election. According to the United Nations human rights investigator to Myanmar, the election would fail to meet international standards because of the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims.
Moreover, the electoral process is proving yet another bureaucratic procedure that serves to erase their legal existence. The Union Election Commission of Myanmar has rejected several Rohingya candidates running for office in recent months and one Myanmar Muslim in Mon State. Recently Aye Win – a Rohingya candidate from the Democracy and Human Rights Party – was disqualified from running in the elections
Aspiring politician Abdul Rasheed is among at least a dozen Rohingya with Myanmar citizenship who have applied to be candidates in the general election. Six of them had been rejected after officials said they failed to prove their parents were citizens at the time of their birth, a requirement under the election law. Although Rasheed has the entire document issued by the government, yet they have refused to accept it.
It seems that instead of making this election inclusive for all ethnicities, the International community is supporting the Myanmar government in its hostile steps. The European Union (EU) has funded a smartphone application mVoter2020 aimed to give easy access to its users the information about 7,000 candidates of the election. The application is regarded as an important contribution in recent pandemic times where people are under order to stay inside. But the app and its underlying technology include information on the ethnicity and religion of candidates.
The application termed the Rohingya Muslim candidates ‘Bengali’ making this technology more harm than good, as it is anguishing the sentiments of the Rohingya community by wiping out their identity.
The Asia Foundation and the International Institute of Democracy & Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), along with the EU, launched the Smartphone App. Later the International IDEAwithdrew its association from the app by saying in a statement that it could “adversely affect election security and integrity.” However, the EU and the Asia Foundation, with deliberate ignorance, continue to fund the app in the name of strengthening the democratic procedure
Burma Rohingya Organization urged international donors to halt funding to the electoral agency unless everyone in Myanmar gets the same opportunity to contest in the election, regardless of their ethnicity or religion.
The recent election has come as an exam for the developed world. Apparently, the developed world has failed in Myanmar due to the support of Myanmar’s government in ethnic cleansing continues of Rohingya Muslims community. The developed world has been globalizing democracy and taking pride in democracy in their countries. On the contrary, the current bleak picture of Myanmar’s ethnic crises and the crucial role of the West in the recent election has shocked the world. It is a need of an hour for the West and international institutions to support Rohingya to get their electoral rights to mitigate the ethnic crises through free and fair elections.