The Catholic Church is educating Myanmar citizens about their democratic rights to ensure that next year’s general election – the second in more than 50 years – is not “worthless”.
Two priests visiting from Myitkyina diocese in Myanmar’s (formerly Burma) northern Kachin state for World Mission Sunday last weekend told The Tablet that the Church was eager to make the most of the new climate created by the ending of press censorship and recent loosening of restrictions on political activism.
The Church is running voter education programmes and monitoring how the Government is preparing for the elections, said Fr Noel Naw Lat, who with Fr Paul Lum Dau was visiting courtesy of the papal missions charity Missio.
Fr Lum Dau said: “The Government makes it extremely difficult to get ID.” Most of those needing paperwork were from the rural areas, where he said the military “is systematically trying to suppress” preparations for the elections. Myanmar’s bishops “are worried the election could be worthless,” he added.
Elections in 2010 returned the ruling military Government’s Union Solidarity and Development Party to power but the main opposition, the National League for Democracy, headed by Nobel Peace Prizewinner Aung San Suu Kyi, boycotted them and the US and Australia deemed them fraudulent.
“The Government has kept voters ignorant for decades,” said Fr Lum Dau, explaining that they enact “good laws to show the international community but don’t let these procedures to be known by the people”.
The priests agreed that it was promising to see civil society building up, but that the bishops and Church as a whole had to be less fearful and take risks.
Fr Naw Lat said: “We need to learn how to participate. We’re just afraid. We don’t know how to make use of the opportunity. Before, we just tried to blame the Government. But to have a good Government we need to have good citizens.”