They come as far away as Mon State in the south and Arakan State in the northwest to mine, drive trucks, cut stones, work on demolition crews, and clean the much sought after jade. Many earn only about 50,000 kyats (US$50) a month.
Local parties say the number of ethnic people eligible to vote in Kachin constituencies is crucial to getting local candidates into parliament to represent ethnic issues.
So they complained recently to the Election Commission when they learned that only about 3,600 workers have been declared eligible to vote in Phakant and, out of that number, only 400 are ethnic Lisu and Rawang from Kachin state. In other words, outside voters outnumber locals 10-to-1.
Kachin are being deliberately left off the electoral rolls, said a local NGO worker. “Just a few Kachin are on the list . . . the list is made up from the people who will vote for (military junta-backed) USDP.”
It is not only workers who are coming under pressure from political parties on how they should vote in Burma’s first elections in 20 years.
Mining company owners are finding that they are expected to influence how their workers should vote. In protest at what they perceive as “dirty tricks” by the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) sent a letter on Tuesday to the Election Commission, complaining about provisions that require company workers to cast ballots at company sites rather than village polling stations.
Authorities allegedly have told executives from 17 mining companies that they risk losing their licenses if their workers don’t vote for the USDP. Company owners, concerned they may lose their investments, are in turn putting pressure on their workers to vote for USDP.
The companies have an estimated 30,000 workers but it’s unclear how many are eligible or will be allowed to vote.
Opposition parties and exiled media accuse political parties with close ties to the military regime of offering temporary national registration cards to people in exchange for their vote. The
SNDP alleges that a Shan organizer for USDP, U Sai Myint Kyaw, has guaranteed the SNDP won’t win in Phakant.
Daw Bawk Ja, a candidate for the opposition National Democratic Force Party, confirmed it is hard to get information from the Union Election Commission about who is eligible to vote.
“If people phone to the Election Commission to enroll to vote they are told to contact their local office, but at the local office they are told only people with national registration cards can enroll,” he said. “This is a problem for ethnic people because many have don’t have cards.”
The lead-up to Burma’s first elections in 20 years has been clouded in secrecy.
The regime refused to release the electoral laws and the polling date until a few months prior to people going to the polls. Political parties were given little time to organize national election campaigns nor did the regime enroll the millions of ethnic people without national registration cards.
It is estimated by international aid and human rights groups that many people in Burma do not have national registration cards as proof of their identity, meaning that they have no proof of citizenship and are ineligible to vote.
Daw Bawk, an ethnic Kachin, said most of the 100,000 people in Phakant won’t be able to vote because they do not have national registration cards even though some have been living in the area for more than 10 years.
The USDP candidate, recently retired army general U Ohn Myint, who was the commander-in-charge in Kachin state, has been accused of issuing temporary ID cards to Phakant residents not on the electoral rolls to secure their vote.
Seng Tawng ward officers claim U Ohn Myint and local immigration officers also have given cash to residents and the promise of ID cards to secure their vote.
“He gave 100 kyat notes to the total value of 10,000 kyats (US$10) and a number of 50 kyat coins to me,” said one local man.
A Kachin resident said he found out that he wasn’t on the eligible voter list. “The Shan and Burmans are in the majority on the voting list and only a few Kachins are included on the list. I’m not on the list, I would like to vote and I’m not allowed. I feel left out,” he said.
Said another resident: “They don’t count me as a member, they do not regard me as family. I feel very lonely. If I am allowed to vote, I would like to vote.”