Voters in 17 electorates in Arakan State will have nine political parties to choose from in the national elections to be held on 7th November 2010.
The two largest parties are the Union Solidarity Development Party and the National Unity Party both are strongly linked to the present ruling military regime.
Parties named by the exiled political opposition as the regime’s ‘proxies’ are the Rakhine State National Force, the National Development and Peace Party, and the Khami National Development Party.
Political parties, who do not have links to the ruling regime, are the National Democratic Party for Development, Rakhine National Progressive Party, Mro or Khami National Solidarity Organisation and the Kaman National Progressive Party.
The Mro National Party sought registration, but could not raise the necessary funds before the 31st August cut off.
The parties with the closest links to the military regime are the USDP, whose leader, Thein Sein, is the regime’s current prime minister and a former senior military officer, the other party with military connections is the NUP led by Tun Yi, a former army chief-of-staff.
The military regime latest estimates in 2008 puts the voting population of Arakan State as 3,183,000.
Arakan State has 17 electorates and nine parties, only the USDP and NUP have the funds and ability to contest in all 17 electorates. The other seven parties will run candidates in a limited number of electorates. RNPP will contest 14 electorates,
The regimes much criticized 2008 Constitution, guarantees the military 25 percent of electorates, a 110 uncontested seats in the lower house. The constitution also effectively bans Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from taking part in the election and has resulted in her party, the National League of Democracy boycotting the election.
Kaladan Press reporters spoke to voters in the townships of Maungdaw (506,986 pop), Rathedaung (169,713 pop) and Buthidaung (292,486 pop) to find out how their reactions to the election and what local and national issues are of concern to them.
Local humanitarian groups say these government estimates of township populations are documented low to deliberately underestimate and confuse the real numbers of local Rohingya.
People have their say…
“With less than two months to go the military regime is talking up its elections with a promise that ethnic people will have easy access to ID cards, hospitals will upgrade, schools will be opened in remote regions and roads, bridges and transport infrastructure will be built. People in Arakan State who talked to Kaladan Press say the opposite is true.”
Teacher, Aung Soe, 35, married with two children says the lack of doctors, medical facilities and medical technology in Arakan State is dire.
“The doctors charge big money to treat people, but if you can’t pay they are not interested in working. Hospitals don’t have reliable electricity. If people need an operation they have to pay for three gallons of diesel to keep the generator running. A doctor in Maungdaw township demanded malaria patients pay100,000 to 200,000kyats for treatment.”
Aung Soe says doctors have no respect for their patients.
“They scold and abuse patients and ignore poor people. Many people die from treatable diseases such as dysentery, malaria and respiratory infections. Because the regime does not invest in healthcare for the people.”
We need good teachers…
Aung Naing, 32, and a father of two children and wants better schools and qualified teachers in Maungdaw.
“The classrooms are overcrowded. We have 100 students to one teacher, it’s impossible for them to learn and impossible for the teachers to teach. To get money the teachers use their energy teaching privately. The teachers like money. They collect money from each student, 500 kyat.”
Aung Naing says teachers are paid 20,000 to 40,000kyat a month from the government.
“When students complete 10 standard and if they want to study more they have to move to Sittwe. But many cannot because the authorities restrict their travel. If they do manage to complete their university study, they are denied jobs because of discrimination against Rohingya people.”
We want jobs…
Aung Naing also told Kaladan Press people were more interested in having paid work and having enough money to buy food for their families than elections.
“Day laborers earn 2,000kyat a day when they can find work. Food is expensive. A kilo of fish costs 3,000kyat. In the last six months it has go up a third, but wages have stayed the same.”
Villagers are not allowed to move around without a travel pass. Aung Naing says Rohingy people are treated like foreigners in their own country even though they are encouraged to vote in the 2010 elections.
“We are not foreigners; we’ve lived here for hundreds of years. At checkpoints we are made to pay bribes. If traders have to pay they pass the cost of the bribe onto their customers.”
We’re not allowed to travel…
A student who for security reasons declined to give his name explained to Kaladan Press how the travel restrictions work.
“If we want to travel to another place we have to pay the village chairman there, 500 kyat and we have to pay the village chairman in our place another 500 kyat. As a student I need to get permission to travel, if I don’t get it in time and can’t attend the university classes I will be penalized by the university.
Traders suffer too…
Shopkeepers in Maungdaw say because the regime controls all aspects of trade indirectly and directly, prices have increased. Traders have to pay tax to the government and on top of that they are extorted extra amounts of money to continue to run their businesses. The downside of these unofficial payments is the hidden costs are passed onto consumers already struggling to feed their families.
“We have to pay amounts ranging between 500,000kyat to 1,500,000kyat ‘under-the-table’ to officials just to keep our businesses open. Even small village fishermen have to pay 5,000kyat to authorities so he can fish. Businesses are forced to pay much more. Our customers suffer because the prices of goods have to go up.”
I want my rights…
The Rohingya shopkeeper told Kaladan Press he wanted the same rights as other citizens. I want to be able to move freely, I don’t want to be arrested and tortured and for the extortion to end.