Politicians with ties to Myanmar's Muslim ethnic Rohingya have accused the government of excluding them from running in this Sunday's general election.
The claims come amid hopes from the international community that this first multi-party poll in 25 years would be “inclusive and credible”.
Kyaw Min, chairman of the Rohingya-led National Democratic Party for Human Rights, told the Bangkok Post only three of 18 candidates from his party had been allowed by election authorities to run on Sunday— and all of them were Muslim Burmans, with no Rohingya.
"The Rohingya are not allowed to vote and not allowed to run in this Sunday's election," said Kyaw Min, one of hundreds of elected members of parliament whose victory at the 1990 general election was rejected by the ruling junta.
The fact that ethnic Rohingya people had no role to play in the current politics reflected disenfranchisement of the Burman-dominated establishment in this country against the ethnic Muslim minority, the chairman of the party said.
In February, President Thein Sein revoked 750,000 temporary identification documents known as “white cards”, most held by Rohingya, and subsequent legislation and court rulings explicitly denied suffrage to former white-card holders, according to outgoing MP Shwe Maung's article in The New York Times on Monday.
"Like other ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar, the country’s Rohingya — estimated to be more than 1 million — suffered under years of repressive military rule," wrote Shwe Maung, a former member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party whose intention to run as an independent candidate was rejected by election authorities saying his parents were not citizens of Myanmar at the time of his birth.
"Today the pseudo-democratic government continues to treat us as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though our people have been in Myanmar for centuries."
Kyaw Min of the Democratic Party said he is "not quite sure if the post-election Rohingya situation will be any better" as thousands of them remain in makeshift refugee camps in the western state near the Bangladeshi border.
Political exclusion is not the only problem for the Rohingya, as their basic rights are also compromised, Shwe Maung added.
"They cannot freely move from their villages or from camps for internally displaced people," he said in the article.
"They must request permission to marry and are prohibited from having more than two children. They face daily abuses by government authorities. A flawed citizenship law explicitly prevents us from ever gaining full rights."
The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) yesterday urged Myanmar political parties to "significantly change their policies and institutional prejudices" to improve the country's human rights climate.
"Unless they place human rights front and centre on their agenda, Burma will remain mired in old challenges — no matter which party wins the election,” FIDH President Karim Lahidji said.
An FIDH survey of Myanmar politicians towards human rights issues found 42% of the political parties refused to make any commitments on ways to address discrimination against the Rohingya.
Several parties have aligned themselves with the government’s official position which actually denies the existence of Rohingya as one of Myanmar ethnic groups, the survey said.
Almost three quarters of political parties refused to support the amendment of the 1982 Citizenship Law to give Rohingya equal access to rights, said the report titled “Half Empty: Burma’s Political Parties and Their Human Rights Commitments”.