With just more than three weeks before voting, Myanmar election authorities have disqualified two more opposition party candidates, saying they did not meet citizenship requirements under the country’s election statutes.
The Union Election Commission on Monday removed Hla Win, a candidate from the Democratic Party For a New Society (DPNS) party in Yangon’s Thingangyun township, and Hnin Wai, a candidate from the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development (USDP) party in Kayah state’s Mese township, while the men were campaigning for the Nov. 8 nationwide elections.
The East Yangon District Election Sub-commission notified Hla Win of his removal from the candidate list because his father did not have a National Verification Card (NVC) when he was born. The documents are part of the government’s effort to register members of the minority group, though they do not confer citizenship.
“My father is an NVC holder now,” Hla Win told RFA. “I submitted my candidate application to the Union Election Commission with my father’s NVC. This raises the question of why the UEC didn’t accept the fact that my father is an NVC holder now.”
Hla Win said he will file an appeal with the national-level election commission.
Min Ko Aung, secretary of the East Yangon District Election Sub-commission, said that election officials sent Hla Win’s candidate application form to the District Immigration Department first in line with regular procedures.
Once immigration officials determined that Hla Win passed muster, they forwarded the application to the UEC, he said.
“After that, the Union Immigration Office informed us that his application did not meet immigration requirements,” Min Ko Aung said. “That’s why we removed him from the list.”
‘Father was not a citizen’
In the case of USDP candidate Hin Wai, immigration officials discovered that his father, who is of Chinese descent, held a Foreign Registration Certificate (FRC) when the candidate was born, therefore making him ineligible to run in elections.
Kyaw Lin, secretary of the Bawlakhe District’s Election Sub-commission, said Hin Wai was disqualified because immigration officials found that he didn’t meet requirements under Sections 8(b) and 10(e) of parliamentary election statutes. The sections require both parents of those who qualify as candidates to be citizens of Myanmar.
“His father was not citizen when he was born,” he said.
Aye Lwin, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Labor, Immigration, and Population was in a meeting and unavailable for comment when RFA contacted him.
Myint Kyaing, the ministry’s former permanent secretary, told RFA that the candidates were removed only under the Election Law.
“They were removed according to the UEC’s law, not according to immigration law,” he said. The immigration department’s duty is only to check the candidates’ genealogical records.”
To date, the UEC has rejected 13 opposition party candidates, though none from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
Those disqualified include five candidates from the Democracy and Human Rights Party (DHRP), three from the People’s Pioneer Party (PPP), one from the Union Betterment Party (UBP), one from the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), one from the Democratic Party For a New Society (DPNS), and two independent candidates.
All five DHRP candidates of Rohingya descent who planned to contest in townships in northern Rakhine state were rejected because the UEC said their parents were not full citizens or holders of National Verification Cards when the candidates were born.
Calls to amend Citizenship Law
Politicians and political analysts have called for the amendment of clauses that they say undermine citizens’ rights to stand for elections.
“Although their fathers were not citizens when they were born, these applicants are citizens now,” said PPP vice chairman Kyaw Zeya. “This law should be amended.”
NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt, agreed that the categorization of people living in Myanmar means that some don’t have rights, including the right to content in elections.
“We should talk about amending this law after having a discussion with all stakeholders,” he said. “We [the NLD] are ready to participate in amending this law if others want to do it.”
Rights activists point out that the problem is deeply rooted in Myanmar’s controversial 1982 Citizenship Law which had been alienating citizens and residents since its enactment during the Burma Socialist Programme Party regime, five decades of harsh military rule.
Aung Myo Min, executive director of the human rights group Equality Myanmar, said the Citizenship Law must be changed.
“We have to review this law. … Although these applicants have been living all these years in Myanmar, they cannot contest in the elections because of the law,” he said.
Sai Ye Kyaw Swar Myint, executive director of the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE), said the Citizenship Law recognizes 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar, though there are citizens of Chinese and Indian descent who are not included on the official list.
“It is clear that participation in the election is limited,” he said. “All citizens must have the right to participate in the politics of this country.”
The NLD is seeking re-election after taking power from the pro-military USDP in the last national vote held in 2015 in the multiethnic nation of 54 million.
Nearly 7,000 candidates from more than 90 parties, as well as independents, are vying for 1,171 seats available in both houses of the national parliament and in state and regional legislatures.
The stiffest competition will again be between the NLD, which is fielding 1,143 candidates, and the USDP, which has put forward 1,129 candidates.
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.