Four more Rohingya men seeking to run in Myanmar’s upcoming general elections have been disqualified over questions about their parents’ citizenship, including a party leader who won a seat in parliament in 1990 but was jailed by the former military-run government, the candidates said Monday.
Kyaw Min, founder of the Rohingya-led Democracy and Human Rights Party, and two other DHRP candidates running for seats in the western state of Rakhine were rejected on Monday.
Another party member, whose father had worked as a civil servant for nearly four decades, was rejected on the same grounds last week.
When Kyaw Min, 76, first won a parliamentary seat representing Rakhine’s Buthidaung township 30 years ago, but his party was banned in 1992 and he later joined a committee with current Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
On Monday, election commission officials in Maungdaw district, which comprises Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, rejected Kyaw Min’s application along with those of Aung Hla and Saw Myint, who planned to contest for seats for the Rakhine state parliament in two Buthidaung constituencies.
The fourth rejected candidate, Abu Tahay, also known as Thar Aye, is a Rohingya rights activist and not affiliated with a political party. It was unclear when on which date he was disqualified.
“This is our fundamental right — the basic rights of an ethnic group since the time of Myanmar’s independence,” Kyaw Min told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “They are now rejecting us, claiming our parents are not citizens.”
Kyaw Min, father of Rohingya activist Wai Wai Nu, said he and the two other DHRP candidates were told they were rejected because their parents were not citizens when they were born, as they held only national ID cards, and not citizenship verification cards.
The politician, also known as Shamsul Anwarul Huq, said that holders of the national ID cards are citizens of Myanmar and that he would appeal the decision at the federal government level.
National ID cards, known as Ah.Ma.Ta cards, were issued only to citizens, and not to foreigners, he said.
“It was clearly stated in the law. The holder of Ah.Ma.Ta national ID cards are citizens,” Kyaw Min said.
Kyaw Min said he registered the DHRP in 2012 and received approval for it the following year after verifying the citizenship of his parents and relatives.
Not proof of citizenship
Kyaw Myint, chairman of Maungdaw district’s election commission, asserted that the DHRP candidates’ parents were not Myanmar citizens when the candidates were born, citing Section 10 of Myanmar’s Election Law.
“Article 10 of the Election Law is a clear mandate on that issue,” he told RFA. “If the parents were not citizens when the candidate was born, the candidacy shall be rejected.”
Kyaw Than, secretary of the district’s election committee, said the Ah.Ma.Ta ID cards were issued to residents who could legally become citizens, but they were not necessarily proof of citizenship.
Therefore, the candidates were rejected because their parents did not obtain new citizenship ID cards, he told RFA.
Those born to parents with Ah.Ma.Ta ID cards are allowed to become citizens but cannot establish political parties, Kyaw Than said. Likewise, they can vote but are not allowed to become elected lawmakers.
Until Myanmar allows Rohingya candidates to run for parliamentary seats, the government will not be able to repatriate some of the roughly 840,000 Rohingya who fled to neighboring Bangladesh during military-led crackdown on their northern Rakhine communities in 2016 and 2017, Thar Aye said.
“Only when we are allowed to take part will it facilitate causes such as building social harmony with our ethnic group, the [Rohingya refugees’] return to Myanmar, and building a peaceful society,” he told RFA. “If we are not included, it will be challenging to achieve these goals because we are members of the group.”
About 25 contenders in November’s race are openly advocating for Muslim minority rights in the predominantly Buddhist country, saying they aim to tackle discriminatory policies, especially those against the Rohingya who are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
But most of the Muslim candidates are over 60 years old, and their parents do not have national verification cards, which were not issued prior to 1990.
‘Manipulation of the law’
Rights activist Nickey Diamond from Fortify Rights said the rejection of Muslim candidates manipulate existing laws to persecute the Rohingya.
“We see the discrimination targeting Rohingya,” he said.
Authorities began issuing pink-colored national verification cards in 1990, so that those born before then would not have the cards if they hadn’t renewed existing ones. He said.
“This is the manipulation of the law and discrimination targeting the Rohingya,” Diamond said.
The exclusion of Rohingya Muslim candidates will tarnish the reputation of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government and could lead to negative consequences in a pending case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), said Diamond.
Myanmar faces genocide-related changes at the Netherlands-based tribunal for its expulsion of the Rohingya during the 2017 crackdown.
Established in 1989 as the National Democratic Party for Human Rights, the DHRP has advocated for Rohingya rights in northern Rakhine where more than 300,000 members of the Muslim ethnic minority still live in Buthidaung, Maungdaw, and Rathedaung townships.
Of the seven candidates the DHRP has nominated for the Nov. 8 elections, four have been rejected.
On Aug. 11, Sittwe district election officials rejected the application of Abdul Rasheed who also was disqualified over questions about his parents’ citizenship, though his father worked as a civil servant for nearly four decades, and his mother holds a citizenship certificate.
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.