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Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi’s party expected to win election as Rohingya denied chance to vote

The National League for Democracy (NLD) – led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi – is widely expected to win a nationwide election that took place on Sunday.

In 2015, her party claimed a landslide victory that ended more than five decades of military rule.

Over 90 political parties are in the fray to elect members of both houses of the national parliament – the upper House of Nationalities and the lower House of Representatives – and the assemblies of the country’s seven states and seven regions.

There are more than 37 million eligible voters who will decide the fate of 1,171 seats in total.

But Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told Sky News: “No one should forget that the elections occur under a 2008 constitution drafted by the military to benefit the military, setting out that one in four parliamentary seats in the country won’t even be elected.

“Instead they come as soldiers hand-picked by a military chief and army that have blood dripping from their hands.”

Ms Suu Kyi is undoubtedly the most popular leader in the country and revered as the mother of the nation.

Her stature with the majority Bamar Buddhist population was further enhanced with her defending the government at the International Court of Justice at The Hague in December 2019 on allegations of genocide against Rohingya Muslims.

The country’s election commission has been criticised for its decision to cancel elections partially or wholly in 52 townships (districts) due to security concerns.

Mr Robertson said: “The Union Election Commission cancelled voting in many areas dominated by ethnic people – and did with no real consultation with the candidates, parties or communities affected by those cancellations.

“The long-suffering Rohingya, accounting for as many as 1.7 million persons, were also excluded by a discriminatory, rights-abusing citizenship law that stripped them of their rights.”

A brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military in 2017 forced almost 750,000 Rohingya to flee their homeland for safe refuge in Bangladesh.

Almost a million Rohingya now live in the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar in the neighbouring country.

UN investigators have accused the military of “genocidal intent” and a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” in their campaign against the Rohingya.

Over the last five years of Suu Kyi’s government, the economy hasn’t done enough to alleviate poverty and inequality.

Simmering tensions prevail between the myriad of ethnic groups and the military.

As state counsellor, Ms Suu Kyi personally invested much capital in the peace process which has fallen severely short of expectations.

Richard Horsey, an independent political analyst based in Myanmar, told Sky News: “Minority communities no longer feel that the NLD is an ally in achieving greater ethnic rights and autonomy; rather, their experience has been that the NLD has governed for the majority and shares many political instincts with the military.”

Myanmar hasn’t been as badly affected by COVID-19 as other countries in the region – it has recorded 60,000 cases and 1,390 deaths so far.

The pandemic has severely disrupted and constrained the economy, affecting the lives of millions of the poorest people – a quarter of Myanmar’s population still lives under the poverty line.

Thousands of citizens in masks and face shields stood in line to cast their vote at polling stations and results are expected to trickle in on Monday with a final tally coming in a few days.

Hafiz Ullah, 40, fled the military crackdown against the Rohingya with his family in August 2017 and lives in a refugee camp.

He told Sky News: “I feel very sad that my fundamental rights have been snatched and are not recognised as citizens.

“It’s a great loss for the Rohingya community that we will not be represented by an MP or as a voter.”

With almost no real opposition, there is little doubt that Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD will win Sunday’s election.

There are hopes that in the next five years the government is able to build and maintain a just and equitable society for the future of this nascent democracy.

But the onus also lies with the international community to fulfil its moral obligation towards the persecuted Rohingya community.

“The UK should not be tempted to return to past policies of isolation and broad-based sanctions, because they do not work,” Mr Horsey added.

“They should continue to engage and support the people of the country who face many hardships, working with the government where that is possible, as well as pressing for policy changes and accountability.”

Hafiz Ullah said: “We expected the NLD to solve the Rohingya problem when they came to power in 2015, but it got worse.

“Aung San Suu Kyi the icon of democracy denied us our rights and sided with the military.”

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