Shan migrant workers will not be able to participate Burma’s general election on November 8, a representative from the Chiang Mai-based Myanmar Consulate confirmed to S.H.A.N.
“For the migrant workers [who are holding temporary passports], we can’t help them. They have to go back to Myanmar to vote,” said U San Ya Kyaw, the First Secretary and Consul.
According to public records from the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, from the whole of Shan State, only seven people were eligible to cast advanced votes; in comparison, there were 222 eligible voters from Yangon.
But there are approximately 200,000 to 300,000 migrant workers from Burma in northern Thailand, most of them ethnically Shan.
U San Ya Kyaw said that the Consulate had disseminated election-related information at university campuses, temples and villages, which led to 142 Burmese citizens from nine provinces in northern Thailand qualifying for advanced voting.
Many migrant workers who spoke to S.H.A.N. claimed they had not benefited from any government outreach regarding the election.
“There has been no information about the process,” said Nang Ying, 41, a Shan construction worker in Chiang Mai. “As a Shan-born person, I think I have a right to vote but I don’t know where I can go to vote.”
Like many others, Nang Ying said she has never voted before. The election this month is the first since a quasi-civilian government took power in Burma in 2011, more than 20 years after general elections were held in 1990. At that time, the military did not cede power to the winning party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).
A 55-year-old domestic worker, Nang Lao, said that she voted in both 1990 and 2010, but is now excluded due to her status as a migrant and the difficulty of arranging travel back to her home village in Shan State.
“I have to work,” she said. “For this coming election, I don’t know yet whether I will go back to vote or not. If possible, I want voting to be held in Chiang Mai because there are a lot Shan people here who can’t go back home,” she added.
Sai Toom Mauk Harn, a staff member from the Migrant Assistance Program (MAP), a group that advocates on behalf of migrant workers from Burma in Thailand, said that MAP representatives visited two construction camps in Chiang Mai to provide information about the election process to the workers. They also brought necessary voting registration forms, known as “Form 15.”
Fifty-six migrant workers participated and filled out the form, he said, but despite trying to submit the forms on the deadline in September, government officials claimed it was too late for the documents to be accepted.
Sai Hseng Pha and Sai Khoun Hseng, both Shan students enrolled at universities in Bangkok, said they submitted Form 15 as instructed, but were informed that their names were not on voter lists back home.
“There was no explanation at all from the embassy,” said Sai Khoun Hseng. “I feel that this is ridiculous. I feel that this is unfair…. If I can, I will make sure I vote. I think one vote can be an important change. But I can’t go back because this is my last semester and I am having my exams coming.”
With the election just over a week away, Shan students and workers who cannot vote are left wondering about their political role in their homeland.
“A good citizen votes, so have I become a bad citizen?” Sai Hseng Pha asked.
By SAI AW/ Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N)