Ethnic Political Parties Object to Domestic Migrants Voting in Host Constituencies

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Ethnic political parties in Kachin State have criticized an amendment to existing voter rights by the Union Election Commission (UEC) that would give domestic migrants the right to vote in their new place of residence rather than in that of their original household.

In early October, the UEC announced that migrant workers could vote in their host constituency as long as they have lived in the area for a consecutive 90 days at the time of the election. The requirement used to be 180 days—ethnic political parties have objected to both periods of time, saying that it negatively impact the voting power of indigenous communities, as they will be outnumbered by the labor force.

There are an estimated 300,000 domestic migrant workers in Hpakant, nearly 200,000 migrants working on banana plantation projects, and thousands more working on road and bridge construction projects throughout Kachin State.

“This announcement… concerns all of us. The election system in our country is based on townships,” Dr. M Kawn La, chairperson of the Kachin National Congress, told NMG. “Political implementation is for local citizens. Domestic migrant workers live for three to six months in a place but they have full voting rights there. This means they will disturb the political decision-making rights of local people.”

KNC released a statement during the second week of November urging domestic migrant workers to exercise their voting rights in their hometowns.

“They can vote for a particular candidate in their constituency. They don’t have decision-making rights during a temporary stay. We can not accept it,” Dr. M. Kawn La said.

“Bamar (Burman) people must vote in their native area. Ethnic people also must vote in their area. So we can elect real representatives in these areas. If not, the representative candidate could be from another area,” Sai Htay Aung, chairperson of the Tai-lai Nationalities Development Party, told NMG.

Chairperson of the Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP) Dr. Manam Tu Ja said that he hoped that the UEC would reconsider its decision, saying that it causes both “suffering” and a loss of rights to locals.

“Local people should have decision-making power to choose parliamentarians for the state and national parliaments. It’s not right way if people from other areas elect parliamentarians for a particular constituency,” he explained.

There is also a concern that people from Kachin State who have migrated to cities like Yangon and Mandalay will not be able to vote in their home constituencies in the upcoming 2020 election.

“I am worried that people will not be able to vote in the coming election,” Shwe Min, chairperson of the Lisu National Development Party (LNDP), told NMG, referring to migrants from Kachin State to central Burma. “How we can recognize local people? Many people live in different locations in this country. We need a concrete law for it,”

The ethnic parties recommended that Burma’s UEC study electoral systems in other countries to better understand how to protect voter rights.