Burma’s election laws amorphous on Diaspora

(Mizzima) – The Burmese military junta’s election laws have conveniently failed to address the fundamental issues of millions of Burmese in Diaspora, residing outside the country for years due to political and economic upheaval.

“Many migrant workers are concerned about the political situation in their country because that is one of the reasons that they came out as migrant workers,” said Debbie Stothard, Coordinator for Altsean-Burma. “It is very clear that there is not going to be any change to get jobs…so all the economic management and the systematic human rights abuses that forced people to leave Burma are still likely to continue.”

The law vaguely mentions that the Foreign Ministry is directed to organize advanced voting for those who live outside the country.

Millions of Burmese citizens are living in neighbouring countries such as Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Singapore. In Thailand alone, it is estimated that at least two million Burmese live and work as migrant workers. This is in addition to some 150,000 refugees in camps along the Thai-Burma border region, who have fled Burma due to the ongoing civil war.

In India there are an estimated 50,000 odd Burmese in Mizoram State alone living as illegal migrant workers; while Malaysia has more than 150,000 Burmese workers staying legally, with the illegal number of Burmese residents in Malaysia estimated to easily match the legal figure.

According to the Parliamentary Election Law (for House of Representatives) announced today, an eligible candidate has to live in the country for a minimum of at least 10 consecutive years in the run-up to the election.

Thousands of Burmese pro-democracy activists left Burma in the years following the 1988 popular uprising.

The new law also says that the military will hold 25 per cent of parliamentary seats, 110 out of a total 440 in the House of Representatives. Further, the country’s Commander-in-Chief will select and nominate the 110 members to represent the military. And in the Nationalities Parliament, the military is to have 56 out of a total 224 representatives encompassing the 14 States and Divisions of the country.

At the same time, the government is prepared to crack down on any anti-election and anti-voting activities under the guise of a clause detailing that anyone who speaks, writes or rallies against voting can be sentenced to a maximum of one year in jail or Kyat 100,000 or both.

“I think it is very clear from the election law that the polls are not going to improve the situation in Burma,” Stothard said and added “so the international community has to understand that it is actually unsafe to force refugees and migrant workers back to Burma under such conditions.”

Since 1962, when the military took over power by a coup, at least five million Burmese are believed to have sought a better living throughout the world. According to official statistics of 2008, there are nearly 28 million eligible voters in the country of around 55 million people.

Estimates from human rights groups working along the border and inside Burma say there are about two million internally displaced persons in Burma, especially in Karen and Shan States.

Despite repeated calls by the National League for Democracy to recognize the results of the 1990 elections, Burma’s military regime has now officially annulled the 1990 results through its new election laws. The law for the Parliamentary Election clearly states that the results of the 1990 elections have been canceled as of March 8 this year.

Reports circulating inside Burma and abroad say that the regime will hold the 2010 elections on October 10, although the government is yet to announce the official date.

 

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