Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims await election results

Myanmar’s marginalised Rohingya Muslims await election results, hoping it will be remedy to their suffering with changes

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A United Nations report has decried the situation in Myanmar as "systematic discrimination and marginalisation" of Rohingya Muslims

By 10am, everyone in the Thet Key Pyin IDP camp is outside on the dusty roads. As the sun creeps higher, their small rooms - often home to multiple members of the same family - become unbearably hot. “It’s like keeping animals in a cage” says Mohammed Jacob. “…its not natural.”

There are around 140,000 Rohingya muslims living in squalid camps across northern Rakhine state. They were forced into the settlements after a wave or religious violence engulfed the restive state in 2012 - leaving nearly 200 people dead.

Earlier this year, President Thein Sein stripped the Rohingya of their voting rights - even though they have participated in every election since the country gained independence in 1948.

But while they may be voiceless during this election, the Rohingya are still hoping that one candidate has heard their pleas.

“If Aung San Su Kyi wins the election then I thinks she might resettle us in our own place. This is what I hope,” says Sumlina as she collected rubbish at the Thet Key Pyin camp.

But Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD), has refused to address the Rohingya issue during the campaign season. Last month, she visited Rakhine State but avoided the northern parts of this coastal region, which is where the majority of them live.

Even Thankha Kyaw - the Rakhine state chariman for the NLD - could not specify the party’s policy towards the persecuted Muslim minority that reside in his constituency.

“When it comes to the camps, the current government has already made long term plans for their support and resettlement which they are now working on.”

Suu Kyi’s silence has drawn criticism from the international community but is popular among the domestic electorate. Anti-muslim sentiment is on the rise in Myanmar, fuelled by hardline Buddhist nationalists.

In September, the Union Election Committee rejected all muslims hoping to stand as parliamentary. Eleven successfully appealed that decision but there are no Muslim’s standing on behalf of the NLD.

“In Myanmar, we have two main parties, and both of those parties have premeditated policy of the exclusion of Muslim” says Khin Maung Cho, who is running as an independent in the Pabedan division of Yangon.

Many Rohingya have already lost hope in Myanmar’s political process.

“After the election, many people are going to leave” says Mohammed Tahir, who has already attempted to leave by boat three times. “At the moment we are just waiting to make contact with the traffickers.”

Earlier this year, thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar and Bangladesh were abandoned at sea by their traffickers - sparking a humanitarian crisis.

If Sunday’s election fails to bring about change for this persecuted minority, then another crisis may not be far off.