Million Myanmar workers may miss vote in Thailand

Over one million Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand may not be able to vote in the November elections under the government’s current system of overseas voting, Thai-based migrant aid groups said.

U Htoo Chit, executive director of the Foundation of Education and Development, said that under the current system, Myanmar citizens can only vote at the embassy in Bangkok.

He said the government should have voting centres in other parts of Thailand where there are a lot of migrant workers to ensure greater election participation.

“I met with officials of the Union Election Commission in March and told them that although many workers wanted to vote in 2015, they couldn’t, so the system needed to change,” U Htoo Chit said.

The group estimated that 4 million Myanmar citizens live and work in Thailand, including about two million legally, one million with certificates of identity and passports, and one million illegally.

Ko Myo Chit of Myanmar Migrant Workers’ Rights Protection said that tens of thousands of workers in southern Thailand would find it impossible to take time off work to travel to Bangkok to vote.

“Migrant workers in southern Thailand are interested in voting,” he said, “but it will take about two days for them to vote in Bangkok, and the cost is expensive.” He said that travel alone would cost each worker up to 2000 baht (K87,000).

According to recent surveys by migrant aid groups in Thailand, about 90 percent of Myanmar citizens there want to vote.

Ko Kyaw Swar Myint, who works at a hotel in southern Thailand, said it is not only the money and time that keeps workers from voting, but also the travel restrictions due to COVID-19.

Also, thousands of migrant workers in southern Thailand are jobless because of the pandemic.

“I’m interested in voting and already have my registration form,” he said, “but we still don’t know how we’ll get to the Myanmar Embassy on election day.”

U Chit Htoo said the government must act quickly and work with civil society groups to hold the elections in the kingdom.

“Success will depend on the cooperation between the government and civil society groups. The system needs to change. Only 50 percent will vote if it does not,” he said.

The cooperation of the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the UEC is urgently needed to ease voting for Myanmar workers in Thailand. U Chit Htoo said polling booths are needed at factories and in industrial zones where thousands of Myanmar citizens work.

The government recently announced that Myanmar citizens abroad can get a voter registration form from July 16 to August 5.

Those who have identity certificates but no national registration card or passport might not be able to register, said U Wai Lin, Myanmar’s labour attaché in Mae Sot, Thailand, which is opposite Myawady in Kayin State.

Written by Khin Myat Myat Wai
Source: Myanmar Times
Published on 14 July 2020

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