Posted August 28, 2020 9:28 am by

‘I want to vote’: Myanmar’s Muslims, Hindus sidelined in election

Meiktila, Myanmar, Aug 28 – One of Myanmar’s five million young adults, May Thandar Maung had been excited to cast her ballot for the very first time in November’s election.

But the 18-year-old is Muslim and says that means she will remain voiceless.

“My religion means I haven’t been able to get an ID card,” she tells AFP in her hometown of Meiktila in central Myanmar — and no ID means no vote.

She describes how local officials have obstructed her attempts for over a year, while Buddhist peers faced no such delays, in a town where memories of brutal inter-communal violence in 2013 are still raw.

The majority-Buddhist nation is widely expected to return Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party to power on November 8 in the second polls since Myanmar emerged from outright military rule in 2011.

The country’s Rohingya Muslims — whether in Bangladeshi refugee shelters or confined to camps and villages in Myanmar — will nearly all be completely disenfranchised.

But Myanmar also has many more Muslims of other ethnic heritage — about four percent of the population — whom the country, in theory, accepts as citizens.

In practice, however, it can be very different.

Muslims complained to AFP of systemic corruption, detailing how they are forced to pay backhanders of hundreds of dollars — exorbitant rates in a country where a quarter of the population lives in poverty.

Three members of Maung Cho’s family had to pay US$370 each, the 53-year-old says, many times higher than the token sums of ‘tea money’ demanded of Buddhists.

– ‘Mixed bloods’ –

Their experiences are echoed by Muslims across the country, says Yangon-based analyst David Mathieson.

“Anti-Muslim sentiment is ever-present with discrimination in schools, the workplace and access to government jobs,” he says.

Challenges continue even for those who obtain an ID in a country where these cards state the holder’s ethnicity.

Many Muslims say false ethnic identities, usually from South Asia, are increasingly being foisted on the community.

Aside from the Rohingya, Myanmar also has Muslims of other ethnic heritage — about four percent of the population — whom the country, in theory, accepts as citizens but the some say the reality can be different In practice, however, it can be very different. © AFP / Ye Aung THU

Maung Cho’s family has lived in Myanmar for generations, yet when his renewed ID card came back, it labelled him as “Indian-Muslim”.

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