Advance polls 'shut out' Myanmar voters
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Advance polls 'shut out' Myanmar voters

Embassy failed to inform citizens in Thailand, set up sites to cast ballots

The biggest turnout for advance voting was at the Myanmar embassy in Singapore, but in Thailand and elsewhere most of those who tried to vote found they could not. (Reuters photo)
The biggest turnout for advance voting was at the Myanmar embassy in Singapore, but in Thailand and elsewhere most of those who tried to vote found they could not. (Reuters photo)

Myanmar citizens living in Thailand have expressed "deep disappointment" over not being informed about early voting for Sunday's general elections -- a move they believe is intended to bar them from participation.

"I was furious and disappointed in my government," said Myimt Tun, a 53-year-old migrant worker who has lived in Thailand for more than two decades and was among those left out of the early vote held in Bangkok on Oct 17.

Local embassy staff failed to inform Myanmar citizens in Thailand about early voting day, and how to vote for the parties and candidates of their choosing, according to the Myanmar locals.

Myimt Tun believes the government's move was an intentional strategy to discourage overseas citizens possible from casting ballots, because the government knows that over half of its people will vote for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, he said.

"The government was trying to keep people away from casting their votes because the government knows this time the election could pave the way for a sustainable democracy with the leadership of Mrs Suu Kyi," Myimt Tun told the Bangkok Post.

"If the government truly wants to build a democracy, they should make sure that every Myanmar citizen living outside the capital [Bangkok] is not left out of voting," he added.

Myimt Tun said he is also disappointed with the Myanmar embassy for not publicising advance voting to Myanmar nationals who do not live in Bangkok.

"The embassy staff should have come down to our areas to clarify what eligible voters should do to cast their votes and explain the steps," he said, adding the embassy should have set up mobile polling units in other provinces where a large number of Myanmar nationals are working and living.

The Myanmar embassy could not be reached for comment. Myanmar's ambassador to Thailand, Win Maung, was quoted earlier by Voice of America as saying that he felt sorry for Myanmar migrant workers who cannot participate in early voting because they do not have time to think about it as they are busy working.

Only one day was permitted for early voting in Thailand, according to the ambassador, because there are only between 500-600 registered voters here despite the fact that an estimated two million Myanmar migrant workers residing in different provinces of Thailand including Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram, Samut Prakan, Kon Kaen, Ranong, Pattani and Tak.

"I live in Thailand, but I did not know about early voting here until the moment I switched on the TV news in the evening," said Kyaw Win, a 56-year-old migrant worker at a noodle factory in Samut Sakhon who has lived in Thailand for four years.

"I really wanted to vote for Mrs Suu Kyi's party," he added. "I hope she [Mrs Suu Kyi] will win the battle. If she wins, I know my country is going to change for the better."

Kyaw Win is only one of many citizens who did not take part in advance voting on Oct 17, as he did not receive the news from the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok. Besides the lack of information from the embassy, other reasons why less than 0.025% of eligible voters here were able to cast their ballots include lack of money to travel to Bangkok, an inability to leave work, and voting eligibility rules that end up barring large numbers of the population.

"Many Myanmar workers cannot leave their jobs for too long," said KoKo Naing, 32, a migrant employee in Samut Sakhon. "If we do not work every day, we do not have a single baht in our pockets.

"Travelling to the capital and staying there costs an arm and a leg for us, especially for those of us who have families," he said. Meanwhile, Kyaw Win said voting in Myanmar would even be a problem for the migrant workers.

"Even if I went back to my country, I would not be eligible to vote because Myanmar citizens must stay in the country at least 180 days before the election takes place," he said.

Kyaw Win also called on the Myanmar government to hold "clean" elections, as many of the Myanmar people in Thailand fear the elections will not be fair. "The military government has always been tricky. They would try to find a way to cling to power, but this time the government must be fair," he said.

Thiwin, 30, a migrant worker living in Samut Sakhon, said she would return home for the first time in four years if the constitution allows Mrs Suu Kyi to become the nation's official leader.

"She [Aung San Suu Kyi] inspires me in many ways. I look at her and I feel hope, but I feel sorry I could not go to vote for her," said Thiwin, who also did not know about the early voting. "I will go back home if Mrs Suu Kyi becomes my country's next leader," she said.

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