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No voting NO: Burmese embassy staff contrive to disenfranchise voters

Posted by theonlinecitizen on April 27, 2008

Selene Cheng

Burmese national desperate to vote goes topless, but still no vote

A sea of red greeted me as I made my way up the road to the Burmese embassy at St Martin’s Drive. Burmese lined both sides of the road, the rows of people in red standing three abreast along a pavement sporadically broken by blue uniformed policemen.

The crowd was gathered to vote early in a referendum to approve a new constitution for Burma.The constitution, drawn up by the military junta, is seen by many Burmese as a bald attempt by the junta to cement its grip on power. It disqualifies opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from holding key political positions as she is married to a foreigner. Miss Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won an election in a landslide in 1990. To this day, her election victory remains unrecognised.

It was slightly past 2pm when I reached the gate of St Martin’s, and a Burmese activist spokesperson, Mr Marc Myo, was explaining the situation to reporters.

The day had started with a few hundred Burmese trickling up the slope leading to the embassy to cast ballots. As the numbers swelled, and the crowd’s voting intentions were made clear from the bright red NO t-shirts and caps they were wearing, Burmese embassy staff began stopping people from entering the embassy to vote.

Initially, embassy staff began by demanding everyone’s names, contact numbers, and passport numbers. Later, they changed their instructions and demanded tax return forms and passports, as well as an invitation letter from the embassy they claimed had been sent out to eligible voters.

Voters were angry at the requirements, and many I spoke to claimed they were completely unaware of them. Marc told me that embassy staff admitted to sending out only 13,000 forms for the Singaporean Burmese population estimated to be 100,000 strong.

Burmese embassy staff were unavailable for comment.

Strip to vote

As the crowd swelled, an additional restriction was imposed. Embassy staff told the crowd that those wearing red NO t-shirts would not be allowed to enter the embassy to vote.

The initial statement was greeted with outrage, but the embassy gates remained shut for almost three full hours.

Attempting to break the impasse, Khun, a prospective voter outside the embassy, stripped off his shirt. Looking downcast, he stared sullenly through the embassy gates at the security personnel.

“See, this is what they have forced us to do! They make us strip before we can vote!” a Burmese shouted from the crowd.

Sai, one of the main negotiators on behalf of the Burmese group, explained the political significance of most of the crowd wearing NO t-shirts:

“We expected something like this to happen. Even if we are allowed to vote, they (the junta) might change the results. So we show the world everyone is against them.”

When I approached Khun to ask him how he was feeling, he was stoically resolute. “I will wait. I am not angry. I just want to vote”.

Polling extended: too little too late?

As 5pm, the official closing time for the polls approached, it was clear no end to the impasse was in sight. Finally, at 6pm, a negotiator for the assembled voters conveyed a concession by the embassy: on the last day of overseas voting, the 29th of April, the embassy would stay open until midnight for voters to cast their votes.

Some I spoke to expressed dissatisfaction at the conclusion. One Burmese national, who prefers to remain unnamed, told me that Sunday was one of the only days all Burmese could make it. The majority of Burmese in Singapore work in jobs that make it difficult for them to turn up on weekdays.

As Sai pointed out to me, the 29th was only two days away, and a generous estimate would be that only slightly more than 300 had gotten to vote thus far. It was unlikely that the thousands yet to vote would have a chance to do it before polls closed.

When I asked Marc what the Burmese planned to do if they did not get to vote by the 29th, he was resigned.

“What can we do? Even if we vote no, they can change the vote. But at least we get the message across by showing up.”

As the day wore on and it became clear the embassy officials were not going to extend voting past 6.30pm, the crowd stirred. A voice was raised and then the crowd followed. The assembled Burmese stood to attention and began singing their national anthem. Their voices swelled to a crescendo of near shouting, and several were openly crying.

Still, the gates remained stubbornly closed. I wondered how the ambassador could remain unmoved.

Additional reporting by Choo Zheng Xi

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The following video of the event is by Ho Choon Hiong.

Video of Mediacorp’s News 5 Tonight report:

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12 Responses to “No voting NO: Burmese embassy staff contrive to disenfranchise voters”

  1. Expected Analysis said

    Don’t be surprised if this happen to us Singaporeans in future. When the authority is under seige, absurd rules and regulations will be enforced to keep the power. They have too much to lose and probably, many scandals to hide. Scandals that may be beyond our wildest dreams and amounts of shocking proportions.

    Sigh…………………………………….. for now.

  2. Zheng Xi said

    Classic ST understatement: “not all Myanmar nationals got to vote”. Try “almost NONE”.

  3. Zheng Xi said

    Sorry I meant CNA.

    Another fantastic understatement:
    “some made their views known by wearing red t shirts”.

    Try:
    “Almost everyone present”

  4. passerby said

    Man these guys are inspiring…

  5. Gutless said

    At least the Burmese peasants have more guts and sense of justice than the gutless and ball-less Singaporeans who talk only but no action. NATO.

    I am also one of them and I feel proud of being kia-su and kia-si, and kia-chenghu. A useless bunch of whinners!

    This is Singapore! Uniquely Singapore.

  6. singapoor said

    why dont singaporeans dare to protest while burmese do?

    well 2000 burmese are willing to sacrifice their safety (as junta can target them when they return home), their time, their well-being (obviously the burmese must know they risk getting arrested if they protest in singapore), their energy etc… the word here to watch is sacrifice. and for what? the greater good of society and country…

    singaporeans will protest when
    – the car behind them overtook them
    – someone took their seat at hawker centre despite their tissue having choped the seat
    – their colleague is given their glamourous part of work to do while they are asked to do the shit part of work
    – some company did not keep up to their word as per their advertisement
    – the car lot they were waiting for is taken by another person
    – someone had accidentally occupied their cinema seat

    see the difference… singapore is a ‘me’ society.. myanmar is an ‘us’ society

  7. Expected Analysis said

    We can sense PAP moles posting familiar messages of discouragement such as “it will be the same the next time; NATO; useless whiners, no point…..; etc, etc, etc.

    Thanks for taking the trouble. Your efforts have been noted and due action will be expedited at the right time.

    We will keep you suspended and posted in due course.

  8. Aung said

    Hi,

    The video is great. Thank you.

    With best regards,
    Aung

  9. Insulted said

    Kudos, to our MHA, look what are brilliant job they are doing. So may cameras, so many guards and lokk how efficent they are, you are warned not to shout, but then its okay to piss for 11 minutes. Give the man a tiger.

  10. su mon said

    thanks for the shots and clips
    really appreciated it

  11. burmaunited said

    we are in deep pain.

  12. […] Vote On New Constitution – The Online Citizen: No voting NO: Burmese embassy staff contrive to disenfranchise voters – Pseudonymity: PHOTOS: Burmese Nationals Protest Constitution In […]

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