As an elected lawmaker and member of Myanmar’s governing party, U Shwe Maung attended dinners with the president and made speeches from the floor of Parliament. But this weekend, the country’s election commission ruled that despite more than four years in office, he was not a citizen and thus was ineligible to run for re-election in landmark voting in November. “I was approved and considered a full citizen in 2010,” he said in an interview on Saturday. “Now, after five years, how could I not be eligible?” Mr. Shwe Maung’s plight is but one example of what appears to be the mass disenfranchisement of the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority who number around one million in Myanmar.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who cast votes in elections five years ago have been struck from the electoral rolls, election commission officials have confirmed, although without providing a precise number. The final list of eligible voters is due by the end of August, but it is unlikely that any Rohingya will be added given anti-Muslim feelings in the country, Rohingya leaders say.
Persecution of the Rohingya has escalated in recent years with the rise of a shadowy Buddhist nationalist movement that has demonized Muslims and encouraged the eviction of Rohingya from the country. Although many Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations, hatred has built up against them and they are referred to as Bengalis by the government, a name that implies they belong in neighboring Bangladesh. Yet until now, they have never lost the right to vote.