Trials of a first-time voter in Myanmar


People vote at a polling station in the Mayangone township of Yangon, Myanmar, 01 April 2012. Photo: Thet Htoo/EPA

It was early afternoon, but the small prayer hall was dark, its walls and pillars lined with wooden boards with sheets of A4 paper glued to them.

I found my name midway through the page on the sheet in the furthest corner, wedged between my mother’s and my sister’s.

My eyes tracked to the information to the right of my name. My national ID card number, followed by my birthday. It was all correct except the year of my birth - the same mistake I had noted when the first voter list was displayed.

I had duly submitted the form 3 (A) to correct it and yet here it was, wrong once again.

The local authorities were apologetic and assured me I would still be able to vote come Election Day despite the mistake in the voter list.

“It’s the software. Some people whose names were on the list the first time now can’t find them this time,” whispered a middle-aged official, perhaps to say others have it worse.

I submitted another 3 (A) form, determined that nothing should scupper my chance to vote. You see, this is the first time in my life that I’ll be voting. I was too young in the 1990 elections and out of the country in 2010 for an election that was deemed neither free nor fair. We didn’t have a by-election in our constituency - Yankin - in 2012.

I have stubbornly held onto my Myanmar passport during my years abroad despite the hassles associated with carrying it and opportunities to take on another nationality.

Having endured weeks waiting for visas to travel to most places and interrogations at immigration desks around the world purely due to my nationality, I was determined not to give up on one of the few things my country has accorded me - the right to vote.

After all the blood, sweat and tears that ordinary Myanmar people have sacrificed over the past half a century, this was the least I could do.

DISAPPOINTED

Yet the initial euphoria of finding my name on the list died down when I looked at the candidate list. Apart from one person whose name was vaguely familiar, they were all strangers.

I want to vote for a candidate who inspires me, whose policies align with my belief in democratic principles and whose plans will help Myanmar develop in a way that its poorest and most marginalised people will not be left behind.

However, a month into the campaign period and we haven’t received any pamphlets at home, let alone met the candidates. Posters started popping up over the weekend featuring candidates looking stiff and formal, but still I don’t know what they stand for.

So I’m left having to scrutinise them based on the political parties they are affiliated with – presenting me with a range of less-than-appealing choices.

As a child of the 1980s, I grew up seeing the oppression, bloody crackdowns and brutal rule the junta imposed on the people. It would be hard for me to vote for the USDP, a party filled with people who held powerful positions in the junta.

I admit the country has gone through significant changes. The fact that I am able to come back home to do the job that I love to do, and write a piece such as this shows how much the country has changed. And yet the fear and the bloodshed are still too recent to forget and forgive.

As a Buddhist who learned to kowtow before I learned to walk, I also strongly disagree with the way religion is being used as a blatant political tool to retain the status quo.

I am an independent, hard-working woman, and I resent the men in power, whether in traditional clothes, army uniforms or monks’ robes, for using the excuse of “protecting” Myanmar’s womenfolk to pass laws that restrict my rights, yet delaying a bill that could truly protect women regardless of the race and religion of the abuser.

And as a thinking, questioning citizen, I am dissatisfied with NLD’s failure to come up with concrete policies, an attitude that seems to take the public affection for granted. The party has displayed a rigid, top-down style of governance, an approach proven to have failed this country. I’m also disappointed in the party for succumbing to right-wing rhetoric and not selecting a single candidate from the Muslim minority.

As a voter, I feel that I am faced with a lack of viable alternatives beyond the two main parties as I haven’t been able to find out much at all about the platforms and policies of smaller parties and their candidates.

Now that I am finally able to vote, I’m at a loss as to who I should vote for.

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