Rohingya Muslims do not believe Sunday’s polling, which will be Myanmar’s first fully democratic general election in decades, can end their plight.
The Burmese minority faces violence and lacks basic rights such as access to healthcare, education and employment. They will not be able to vote since they are denied citizenship.
But the elections have raised the hope that a new and expansive democratic beginning in the country after half a century of military rule will make a difference in the lives of the Rohingyas.
“The situation will mostly remain unchanged,” says Mohamed Ibrahim, General Secretary of the European Rohingya Council, which works as a “lobby and advocacy” group across the world for their compatriots back home.
He foresees little impact on bilateral relations between Myanmar and Bangladesh after the elections.
The election also matters to Bangladesh as Myanmar is the country’s gateway to South East Asian countries.
Fleeing sectarian violence, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have taken refuge in Bangladesh, but the Myanmar authorities have so far refused to take them back.
The Myanmar position has remained a stumbling block in relations between the two countries. Nevertheless, Dhaka has signalled its strong desire to strengthen ties with Naypidaw through putting aside the issue when it provided relief to Myanmar in the aftermath of the recent floods in Myanmar.
Ibrahim told bdnews24.com on Saturday that incidents of rampant physical abuse, killing and rape might decline after the elections, but “it is impossible to get rid of the violence (for Rohingyas) as a whole”.
The outcome of the election will see power going to either Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) or the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) representing the military regime.
The Myanmar Parliament, Hlluthaw, comprises a House of Representatives and a House of Nationalities, with 440 and 224 seats respectively.
Votes will be cast for three-quarters of the total 664 seats: 330 in the Representatives, 168 in the Nationalities.
The remaining 25 per cent is reserved for unelected military representatives, who have a veto over changes in the country’s Constitution.
“If we calculate, the USDP has already won the 25 per cent of seats in the election which are reserved for the military and whose representatives will be appointed by the chief of the army,” Ibrahim said.
“So it (USDP) needs only 26 per cent to win the election. If they win, we can easily understand the situation will not change but can rather take a turn for the worse”.
What if Suu Kyi’s NLD forms the government?
“She needs 51 per cent of the parliamentary seats to win the election. Many observers believe the NLD can win the election and form the government easily.
“But the NLD’s will be a motionless government. They’ll be unable to make constitutional reforms. To make any change, the NLD needs the support of 76 per cent of the legislators.
“If the NLD wins all the seats in the election or gets support of all ethnic legislators in forming the government, it will still have 75 per cent legislators.
“Besides, there are some constituencies in which the election process has been halted for security reasons. So there is no chance for her to get the needed seats in parliament to bring about any reform.”
Key security-related ministries like defence, home affairs and border affairs will be led by individuals selected by the head of the army, not the president. There can be no change to the constitution without military approval, he said.
“So the need to resolve the Rohingya issue will never be felt even if the NLD wins the election and forms the government,” Ibrahim said.
“The army dictators have been accustomed to wielding power in Myanmar and they don’t want to let go of it at any cost.”
The regime agreed to hold the election only after internal and international pressures mounted.
During the election campaign, President Thein Sein warned the nation that “there’ll be unrest if the ruling party fails to win the election”.
He said only the international community can change the situation of Rohingyas by taking serious steps and setting up a ‘Genocide Safe Zone for Rohingya’.
He believes that if Suu Kyi’s party is voted to power, it will try to establish better relations with all neighbours, including Bangladesh.
“But the plight of the persecuted Rohingyas will remain unheard,” he said.