Myanmar nationals abroad face difficulty voting in general election

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Yangon (dpa) – Thousands of people queued up near the Myanmar embassy in Singapore on the fourth day of advance voting for expatriate workers in the November 8 general elections.

The queue snaked for more than a kilometre from the embassy at St Martin’s Drive to the Shangri-La hotel, and people spent the night waiting outside.

“I never queued for such a long time. No, not even to buy an i-Phone,” said Aung Paing, 28, assistant project manager at Teacly Pte Ltd, who was contacted through Facebook.

He and his friends waited more than 12 hours to cast their advance ballots Saturday.

“We didn’t sleep yet, but we didn’t feel too tired because we realize the value of the vote,” Aung Paing said by text message after voting at the Myanmar embassy in Singapore.

Due to a larger-than-expected turnout, the embassy in Singapore said Saturday that it would extend the period for advanced voting for three days, until October 21, to accommodate the estimated 20,000 Myanmar voters in the city-state.

According to one community group informally polling people in the queue, a vast majority would vote for the opposition National League for Democracy, which is led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

“I believe no one will vote USDP (the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party),” Aung Paing said.

In Myanmar, military rule for half a century and international sanctions left a crippled economy, prompting an exodus among nationals rich and poor to seek better opportunities in neighbouring countries and beyond.

According to the official 2014 census, more than 2 million of Myanmar’s estimated population of 51.5 million were living abroad, about 70 per cent of them in Thailand. However, the real number of workers abroad is likely to be much higher, an estimated 10 per cent of the population, according to the International Organization for Migration’s data from mid-2014.

Each absentee voter has to cast three separate votes to elect members of the lower house, upper house and state or regional parliament, and ethnic groups cast an additional ballot for representatives of their race.

But according to the Myanmar embassy in Seoul, the ballots sent by election authorities were incomplete and included errors. It also said it had received only 3,788 ballots, although 6,331 people had registered to vote in South Korea.

“They want us to give up voting by making it difficult to be on the voters’ list,” Thaung Tun of the Forum for Myanmar Organization of Korea told dpa by e-mail.

“They know that the lower the turnout, the better for them,” he said.

Advance voting also took place in Thailand, but with a much lower turnout than in Singapore, as only 561 people had registered, even though Thailand has the heaviest concentration of Myanmar migrants.

Sein Htay from the Migrant Worker Right Network based in Thailand said even some eligible voters in Bangkok did not cast their ballots because of errors made by electoral authorities.

“Most Myanmar migrant workers here are not interested in the election. The election commission and Myanmar embassy made them confused,” he said.

Among 37 countries with Myanmar expatriates, those in Singapore are the most active.

“We just want to motivate other voters in Myanmar,” crane operator Myo Han, 38, told dpa by phone. He and two friends came home on October 6 to vote in their constituencies.

A Myanmar workers’ association in Singapore was also arranging to hire a chartered plane to Myanmar for people who did not get a chance to cast valid absentee ballots.

“I think about 400 people have joined the ‘Fly To Vote’ programme,” Wai Hin said. “The first group will arrive in Myanmar on November 2 while others arrive on November 6.”

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