The Democracy and Human Rights Party, one of the smallest registered ones in Myanmar’s Nov. 8 general elections, is the only party willing to represent Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims, although they aren’t allowed to use “Rohingya” in their party’s name.
Campaigning hasn’t gone as smoothly as for other parties. On Nov. 2, 300 people demonstrated in Maungdaw in Arakan state, where some of the worst persecution of Rohingya has taken place, to call for the disqualification of the only DHRP candidate allowed to contest by the Union Election Commission. Their ordeal in campaigning is emblematic of the entire level of bigotry faced by the downtrodden minority, with more than 100,000 continuing to live in camps for internally displaced persons, not allowed by authorities to leave. Thousands more have taken to the sea to face trafficking or violence. Many have drowned.
Khin Zaw Myint’s candidacy was originally rejected by UEC, along with 16 DHRP candidates, a decision overturned on appeal for the 29-year old candidate. That decision saved the DHRP’s participation in the November 8 general elections. According to electoral law, a party has to be able to field at least three candidates in order to contest.
DHRP initially presented 19 candidates. The 16 were rejected because they have been rendered stateless after the government last year decided to take back the white cards that were the only identification papers available for Rohingya. The three remaining candidates are Muslims but from Bamar (Burmese) ethnicity, not Rohingya.
In Yangon’s Botathaung township at the party’s headquarters, chairman U Kyaw Min tried to gather the members to prepare the campaign. As a Rohingya, he was himself rejected as a candidate by UEC.
“The authorities said we had to prove we had a citizenship card when we were born. I was born 70 years ago, citizenship cards didn’t even exist at that time,” explained the retired school teacher. “I am not a candidate, because I am not a Burmese citizen, they say. Yes, I am Rohingya, I am advocating for Rohingya cause, I am fighting for Rohingya rights.”
U Kyaw Min is pessimistic. But it doesn’t prevent him from fighting for his people. He thinks that politics might be the way, even if his party always seems to be one inch away from de-registration.
“We are very cautious, we try not to do anything that could harm our party.” he explained. With only three candidates running, two in Yangon division and one in Arakan State, and Muslims being so unpopular in Myanmar, U Kyaw Min doubts his party can win any seats in the Parliament. “We have to try our best up to the end, it’s like a football match. We won’t know unless we try. “
Meetings have to be held indoors. It’s too dangerous. They can’t do public rallies like Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
“We are afraid we could be attacked by Ma Ba Tha (a group of extremist anti-Muslim Buddhist monks). The police would even encourage them if we were attacked.” U Kyaw Min added. So they go door-to-door. “People are more sensitive to our cause this way,” said a Yangon division candidate, Thu Thu Win, 62 years old.