Voters Denied Ballot for Ethnic Affairs Minister, Then Blamed for Not Checking Eligibility

Monday, November 9, 2020

Voters in at least two townships in Kachin State reported that they were not provided with ballots to vote for ethnic affairs ministers in Burma’s general election on Sunday, NMG has learned.

The voters were from at least eight villages or towns in Myitkyina and Waingmaw townships. They said they were not able to cast ballots for the Bamar, Lisu, Rawang and Shan ethnic affairs ministers, respectively.

Ngwar Malay, a resident of San Kar village in Waingmaw Township—which is home to a Lisu and Lawngwo Kachin community—told NMG that more than 20 voters in her area were not provided with ballots for the post of ethnic affairs minister at their polling station.

Ethnic voters are allowed four ballots, for four posts: state parliamentarian, Lower House and Upper House representatives, and the ethnic affairs minister for their respective ethnic group.

The military-drafted 2008 Constitution states that if at least 50,000 ethnic people live in a particular state or region, there must be an ethnic affairs minister for that group in the state or region.

“We could cast only three ballots at the polling station. We complained to the polling officer about it. They said that voters didn’t carefully check their names on the eligible voter list,” Ngwar Malay said, adding that she had applied to be included on the list of eligible voters for the ethnic affairs post, but that in the end her name was not listed.

Ah Du, a Lisu resident of Myitkyina Township’s Ngwe Pyaw San Pya village, said she was another such voter who was not able to cast a fourth ballot.

“My name was not included on the list, so I could not cast a ballot for the ethnic affairs minister. I am an ethnic person. I want to cast my ballot for an ethnic party. I feel very upset about it. I am so angry,” she told NMG.

Another problem Ngwar Malay highlighted was the language barrier at the polls, noting that ballots are only written in Burmese, a language that many ethnic locals cannot read or speak fluently enough to file a formal complaint.

“[The local people] are afraid to have disputes with others, so they could not cast a ballot for the ethnic affairs minister,” Ngwar Malay explained, adding that many voters did not know that it was their right to vote for a Lisu ethnic affairs minister.

She said that there were “no concrete instructions” provided to ethnic voters about their entitlement to the extra ballot.

Shwe Min, chairperson of the Lisu National Development Party (LNDP), said that being denied the opportunity to vote for an ethnic affairs minister was a rights violation on multiple levels.

“People have lost their voting rights, citizenship rights, and ethnic rights,” he told NMG. “Some people could not cast their ballot at the polling station because their name was not included on the eligible voter list, so they have lost their citizenship rights. In addition, people could not cast their ballot for the ethnic affairs minister, so they have lost their ethnic rights.”

He said “the weakness of the election commission staff” was to blame.

“We need to know how the government is going to solve this problem,” Shwe Min added.

In Kachin State, all of the ethnic affairs ministers elected in 2015 were running on behalf of the National League for Democracy. Khin Maung Myint was the Bamar affairs minister, Ah Ti Yawhan was the Lisu minister, Yan Nam Hpong was the Rawang minister, and Sai Sein Lin was the minister for Shan ethnic affairs.