Mon State Voters Report Being Denied Ballots for Ethnic Affairs Minister

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Voters in Mon State have said that they were not given ballots to vote for their respective ethnic affairs ministers on Sunday during Burma’s general election.

Ethnic Bamar, Karen and Pa-O voters are entitled to vote for their ethnic affairs minister in the state, but there were multiple reports of these voters being denied ballots for the post, because their names were not on the eligible voter list. They were given the three standard ballots to vote for state parliamentarian and Lower and Upper House representatives, but did not receive a fourth ballot to vote for their ethnic affairs minister. The same problem was also reported by ethnic voters in Kachin and Shan states.

Than Than Win, a Bamar resident of Daiwon Kwin ward in Mawlamyine, said she was not able to vote for the ministerial post on Sunday, and estimated that hundreds more in her ward were similarly denied.

“Like me, other ethnic Bamar people were not given a ballot to vote for the Bamar ethnic affairs minister. I complained to the election commission officer. They told us if our name was not included on the list, we could not vote for it. They didn’t resolve it,” she told NMG, adding, “I have lost my citizenship rights.”

Naw Zar Htoo, who was running for the Karen ethnic affairs ministerial post in Mon State, said that she had been told some Karen people were also not given ballots to vote for the position.

Local election commission officers told NMG said that they had largely “resolved” the dispute while the polls were still open, but did not explain how.

Representatives for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) referenced the voting irregularity as a problem linked to “racial purity,” and emphasized the need to make voting exclusive to those with one ethnicity listed on their government-issued identification cards, rather than those who are multiethnic.

“Based on the list from the immigration department, the election commission made the eligible voter list for ethnic people,” USDP spokesperson for the party in Mon State, Win Maw Oo said. However, he questioned whether the department had allocated ethnic ministerial post votes to people from multiethnic backgrounds, referring to them using the Burmese term for “mixed blood.”

Win Maw Oo suggested that “pure” ethnic people should be able to vote for the ethnic affairs ministers in their state, but alleged that “mixed-blooded” people had been given ballots and that this was a government “weakness.”

The classification of “mixed blood” was formalized by the military regime in the 1980s and denotes second-class citizenship status in Burma. It is often used to describe people with part Chinese or South Asian ancestry. Human rights activists have condemned both the term and classification practice as discriminatory.