The Nobel laureate, once seen as an icon of democracy, took part in an election in which Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities were not allowed to vote.
As Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi inches towards an election victory on Monday, she faces criticism for overseeing policies which barred millions of people from different ethnic minorities from exercising their right to vote.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is set to sweep the election for a second term, according to reports.
But a win for Suu Kyi, who was conferred the Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle against the military dictatorship, will do little to boost her image now tainted by her refusal to acknowledge the suffering of Rohingya Mulsims.
Around 2.6 million people, the Rohingya among them, have been stripped of their voting rights. Suu Kyi derives support from the majority Bamar Buddhist ethnic group.
A country of 55 million, Myanmar has been scarred by more than a dozen insurgencies by different groups, which say they are fighting for better lives.
Human rights groups such as Fortify Right have condemned disenfranchisement of minorities, especially the Rohingyas who are considered foreigners, barred from citizenship rights, as well as being denied the right to participate in elections.
“Many Rohingya candidates have been stopped from running in the election under section 10 of the Election Law because authorities say they cannot prove the citizenship of their parents when the candidate was born,” says Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Poll cancellations in Rakhine State have disenfranchised 3/4 voters there. In protest, people sharing “can’t vote” selfies of their fingers dipped in lime. (Voters in Myanmar must dip a finger in indelible purple ink to prevent repeat voting, and often share “just voted” pics.) pic.twitter.com/M9PhBOYaRU— Richard Horsey (@rshorsey) November 8, 2020
Under draconians laws, Rohingya Muslims have been forced to accept National Verification Cards (NVC). These identify them as Bengadeshi citizens, and deny them the freedom to travel or work.
The NVC scheme, widely condemned by rights groups, was introduced under the watch of Suu Kyi who has continuously defended her government’s treatment of minorities.
More than 900,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee across the border to Bangladesh after Myanmar’s military and Buddhist extremists unleashed a series of atrocities which saw entire villages being burned down, extrajudicial killings, and rape.
Myanmar says it carried out the 2017 military operation to combat militants, but the United Nations has called it a campaign which had “genocidal intent.”
Only half a million Rohingya Muslims now live in Myanmar - they are mostly confined to isolated villages where authorities have imposed strict restrictions on their movement.
The military, known as Tatmadaw, is also engaged in a deadly conflict with the Arakan Army, which is made up of mostly Buddhist locals who want greater autonomy for the Rakhine state.
Successive governments have ignored development in Rakhine and neighbouring Shin for decades. The two states have been under a year-long internet lockdown, which has hampered flow of information about the Covid-19 pandemic to locals.
Suu Kyi was first elected in 2015 amid hopes that she will promote civil liberties. But her government is accused of trying to curb freedom of speech.
In one of the high profile cases, two Reuters reporters were arrested and detained for more than a year after their story uncovered the brutal killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in Rakhine by Myanmar’s military.
The UN Human Rights Council has found sufficient evidence linking the high command of Tatmadaw with the crime of genocide.
Suu Kyi defended the military action at International Court of Justice (ICJ) last year, arguing that the claims of genocide are misleading. Analysts say her attendance before the ICJ increased her popularity and domestic support among the majority Bamar people.
HRW has also raised concern about the electoral process as the powerful military continues to exert its influence on parliament. Under the constitution, 25 percent of the legislative seats must go to unelected army officers.