The curtain lifted this past week, on campaigning for Myanmar’s first general elections since the Rohingya genocide of 2017, when 700,000 of the Muslim minority group fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by the army. The 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State are essentially confined to camps and villages. They remain without citizenship or the ability to vote this November. They even lack the freedom to move freely around the country.
No surprise then, that the Myanmar government is again blocking Rohingya Muslims from running for political office. Prior to the start of campaigning, election officials barred Kyaw Min, head of the Rohingya-led Democracy and Human Rights Party (DHRP), from running in November. He was disqualified along with two other DHRP candidates because their parents were allegedly not citizens as required by election law, one of the various tools used to oppress the Rohingya population.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party is widely expected to again win the most seats in the Nov. 8 general election, and she is expected to remain as state counsellor, the de facto head of state. But the fortunes of the Rohingya are expected to see little change. Foreigners who admired Suu Kyi for her non-violent struggle against Myanmar’s military rule, which won her the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, were sharply disappointed by her defense of the military’s actions. As state counsellor, she does not oversee the military but she has repeatedly denied accusations the army committed genocide against the Rohingya. Including at the Hague, where the International Court of Justice is investigating the genocide case.
Voters in the November election will choose members of the upper and lower houses of the national parliament as well as the official state and region parliaments. There are almost 7,000 candidates from 94 political parties - yet hardly anyone to speak up for the Rohingya. Even the international community has not spoken up against this glaring blind spot. With its powerful friends, Myanmar, it is felt, continues to enjoy special treatment in international forums.
In 2015, Myanmar’s new political landscape promised a new focus on democracy and human rights across this ethnically diverse country. The last five years have served to dash those hopes. Come November, Myanmar’s government-sanctioned “democracy without rights” may produce free elections, but as long as the policies of repression continue against the Rohingya, it will be nothing but a travesty of democracy.