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Loss of vote could push Myanmar Rohingyas to violence

(Credit: Arche-Nova)
 A report by International Crisis Group says Myanmar’s Muslims are ‘not ripe for radicalization’ but could be pushed to violence if voting right is removed

By Joshua Carroll
October 23, 2014

YANGON, Myanmar: Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar could be pushed towards civil disobedience or violence if moves to strip them of their right to vote are successful, according to an influential report.

The International Crisis Group‘s 38-page advisory said the Rohingya, the Muslim minority from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, see their voting rights as “their last remaining connection to politics and means of influence.”

The report warned the situation in Rakhine is likely to become much more volatile as next year’s general election approaches. It added that sectarian violence, which has killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands, mostly Rohingya, is a “significant threat” to the country’s nascent democratic reforms.

At the heart of Rohingya’s disillusionment are proposals to take away their right to vote, which is granted through the identity cards, known as temporary registration certificates, that many hold.

Rakhine Buddhist politicians have submitted a bill to strip certificate holders of electoral rights. In September the government banned certificate holders from leading or being members of political parties.

If the proposal to ban them from voting becomes law, it would disenfranchise more than 1.4 million people, including many non-Muslims, the report, published Wednesday, added.

The report also urged the international community to pay more attention to the plight of the Rakhine Buddhist population, who it said are often “cast as violent extremists, which ignores the diversity of opinions that exists and the fact that they themselves are a long-oppressed minority.”

Ignoring their grievances is “counterproductive,” the report’s authors added.

“These fears, whether well-founded or not, need to be acknowledged if solutions are to be developed,” they said.

Myanmar has undergone sweeping changes, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners, since the ruling military junta stood aside in 2011 in favor of a reformist, nominally civilian government.

But the reform process has been accompanied by a rise in anti-Muslim violence and hate speech as tensions that had been supressed under military rule surfaced.

Despite decades of persecution, the report said, the Rohingya have rarely resorted to organized violence to defend their rights because “they believe that violence or even a threat thereof would be likely to prompt further discrimination against them.”

It added: “The Rohingya in Rakhine state are not ripe for radicalization for a number of reasons: they see Western governments as key supporters of their rights, which does not fit with the global jihadi agenda; they are not easy for global extremist networks to access; and it seems that most Rohingya religious leaders are not preaching violence.”

Despite that, there is a risk of radicalism if Rohingya are stripped of suffrage, one of the last basic rights left to them.

“In Rakhine State it could be incendiary,” the report added, “It would be hard for the Rohingya community to avoid the conclusion that politics had failed them – which could prompt civil disobedience or worse.”

Source: Anadolu Agency