The United States, Japan and other major powers on Tuesday raised fears that rising religious tensions in Myanmar could spark “division and conflict” as campaigning begins for historic elections. Myanmar goes to the polls on November 8 in what many hope will be its freest vote in generations after decades of army rule, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party widely tipped to make huge gains. But religious tensions are spiking in the Buddhist-majority country, which has seen sporadic outbursts of often deadly religious unrest in recent years, with minority Muslims facing increasing political exclusion as the influence of nationalist monks grows.
In a statement a day after hardline monks began two weeks of nationwide ceremonies that coincide with the start of election campaigning, foreign governments called on Myanmar “to promote a spirit of tolerance, mutual respect, and equality under the law to ensure the elections are peaceful and inclusive”.
“We, as international partners invested in the success of this country and these elections, are concerned about the prospect of religion being used as a tool of division and conflict during the campaign season,” the statement said.
It was signed by the embassies of Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Norway, Japan, Sweden, Britain and the US.