YANGON — Myanmar’s Nov. 8 election is likely to be dominated by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and the opposition National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi. But about 90 other parties are also vying to win seats in the country’s first free and fair election in a quarter century. Confronted with the wealth, reach and popularity of the big two, this array of smaller parties faces a struggle to win seats — a challenge compounded by Myanmar’s first-past-the-post electoral system, a legacy of colonial rule. “The two big parties are overwhelming the smaller parties,” said Khin Maung Kyi, an official with the United Democratic Party. “They can use so many finances,” he added, pointing to the gaping disparity in resources between his party, which is fielding a mere 41 candidates in the election, and the 1,000-plus being fielded by both the NLD and USDP.
YANGON — One of five lawmakers from Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority who have sat in the country’s national and regional parliaments since 2010 has been barred from contesting the upcoming Nov. 8 national election. Shwe Maung, speaking to the Nikkei Asian Review on Sunday, said he had received an official notice from the government’s election commission that he was not eligible to run in the election – even though he holds a seat in national parliament. He said he would appeal the decision take by the district election sub-commission in Maungdaw, a Rohingya-majority district in northern Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh. “I have seven days to appeal and perhaps tomorrow I will make the appeal at the Rakhine state regional electoral commission,” said Shwe Maung, who was elected in 2010 as a lawmaker in Myanmar’s lower house, representing the Union Solidarity and Development Party.
KUALA LUMPUR — Gulajan Binti Nur Hamad was only 9 years old when she saw her house set ablaze by rampaging Buddhist mobs. “There was fire and fighting,” she said, running her right hand across her throat in a hint that she had seen worse than the flames that left her family’s home in ashes. Gulajan was one of more than 140,000 Muslim Rohingya driven from their homes in 2012 during violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, in her case left homeless when ethnic Rakhine mobs in October that year attacked the Rohingya Muslims living in the area of Kyaukphyu, an oil and gas port where a major pipeline comes ashore before traversing Myanmar to China’s Yunnan Province.
BANGKOK – In Aceh on the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, the refugees were in bad shape when they landed in early and mid-May after a long ordeal at sea. “They only had the clothes on their backs. Many had wounds from the fighting that had broken out at sea over food,” Nasruddin, a coordinator for the Geutanyoe Foundation, an Acehnese nongovernmental organization that has been working with the survivors, told the Nikkei Asian Review.
BANGKOK – For now the numbers of people taking to the seas is likely to ease off, as the long rainy season hits Myanmar and Bangladesh, bringing with it the threat of cyclones and stormy seas. The change in weather should in theory give the concerned countries a five to six month window to deal with the causes of the crisis. But Aung Win, a Rohingya community leader living in a Muslim ghetto near Sittwe, the regional capital of Rakhine state, believes that many Rohingya will once again try to reach Thailand and Malaysia when the rains stop around October. “For sure, unless the government does something to make our lives easier, after the rainy season people will make for overseas,” Aung Win told the NAR.
BANGKOK – “According to the information given to me by those who come back from the boats, there are no more now offshore,” said Kyaw Hla, a Rohingya businessman who paid out of his own pocket for the safe return to Sittwe of 75 trafficked Rohingya. “I paid 200,000 Myanmar kyat (about US$200) for each human person,” Kyaw Hla told The Edge Review. With the annual rainy season about to hit the Bay of Bengal and surrounding countries, the exodus of Rohingya and Bangladeshis will cease, for now, said Kyaw Hla. But unless conditions improve over the coming months, more Rohingya will likely take to the sea again come October, when the clouds break and the wind and rains stop and the boats point south toward Thailand and Malaysia once more.
BANGKOK – In recent years, attacks on the Muslim Rohingya by the Buddhist Rakhine have forced almost 150,000 Rohingya into camps after their villages were destroyed. Since then, an estimated 120,000 have run a gauntlet of stormy seas as well as abuse and extortion by traffickers in order to escape to Malaysia. “People do not have any freedom here,” said Myo Win, a Rohingya speaking to the NAR by telephone from Sittwe, the Rakhine regional state capital. “That is why they try to go to Malaysia,” he added.
YANGON – Bodies buried in the jungle, camps hurriedly abandoned, officials arrested, police suspended from duty, thousands of desperate refugees adrift at sea and pushed back into international waters by foreign navies. Muslim Rohingya have been fleeing discrimination in Myanmar by running a gauntlet of extortion, rape, starvation and sometimes execution in the remote jungles of Thailand’s south, a usual way station en route to Malaysia. But after a recent crackdown on traffickers by Thailand, thousands of distressed refugees are being pushed back to sea by Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand as they attempt to dock, their boats abandoned by crew.