In 2015, the National League for Democracy won Myanmar’s first democratic election in decades in a landslide, catapulting Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to de facto head of state and heralding a new era of anticipated democratic reforms.
The heady optimism all came crashing down in 2017, when some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims were driven out of the country in a brutal campaign of arson, rape and murder which has since been described as a genocide. Shockingly, to some, Aung San Suu Kyi refused to condemn the atrocities and even defended the Myanmar military.
But even in 2015, there were already signs of religious tensions in the predominantly Buddhist country.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD controversially refused to pick a single Muslim candidate for that election, passing over stalwart members of the party, who had previously served time as political prisoners for their role in the fight for democracy.
Two of those omitted Muslims are now contesting this year’s election, representing a small step towards progress, even as the Rohingya remain almost entirely excluded from politics.
Sithu Maung, 33, and 77-year-old Win Mya Mya, both of whom are non-Rohingya Muslims, are running for parliament on Sunday under the NLD, which is widely expected to cruise to another victory. Both have been subjected to anti-Muslim abuse on the heated campaign trail.
Sithu Maung has been targeted by the main opposition party, the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party. Maung Myint, a prominent USDP parliament member and hardline nationalist, singled out Sithu Maung by name, calling him a “kalar”, a derogatory term for people of South Asian, or Muslim heritage.
He falsely claimed that Sithu Maung was one of 42 Muslim candidates selected by the NLD, adding the governing party cannot “control” its Muslim members who may cause “trouble” in parliament. Maung Myint also said the USDP did not allow its Muslim members to grow beards.
Meanwhile, hundreds of monks signed a petition demanding that Win Mya Mya be removed as a candidate. Both candidates declined to comment in detail to Al Jazeera, although Win Mya Mya briefly said, “I am confident that I will win. People know me very well”.
Below democratic standards
Myanmar’s upcoming election has been widely criticised for failing to meet a host of international democratic standards. Opposition parties have been censored by state media, websites critical of the government have been blocked, and people boycotting the election were threatened with arrest.
Polls were cancelled across Rakhine state, disenfranchising more than a million ethnic Rakhine voters and giving the NLD an edge in a state where it is deeply unpopular.
Just days before the election, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing refused to commit to honouring the results, raising the spectre of a coup.
But no controversy has received more criticism than the exclusion of the Rohingya on grounds of citizenship, which activists claim are discriminatory, arbitrary, and retroactive.
The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said Myanmar “is enforcing laws that undermine the very lifeblood of democracy” by excluding the Rohingya.
Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin told Al Jazeera he had believed the NLD would restore Rohingya citizenship when it took power, only to be bitterly disappointed.
“Many thousands of Rohingya joined NLD when it was formed in 1988. Four Rohingya candidates represented NLD in the 1990 election. But now NLD members including Aung San Suu Kyi are pretending as if they didn’t know a single Rohingya,” he said.
One of those candidates was Kyaw Min, who successfully won a seat in the annulled 1990 election as an NLD candidate, but was barred from contesting this year’s election for the minor Democracy and Human Rights Party.
“The fact is that under this law I was allowed to contest the 1990 election but today, they say your parents were not citizens,” he said.
He said before the 1982 Citizenship Law, everybody in Myanmar used the National Registration Card, which was retroactively downgraded to not confer citizenship, specifically to disenfranchise the Rohingya.
“They don’t want to give rights to the minorities or acknowledge the existence of Muslims in Myanmar. They want to expel all Muslims from Rakhine State,” he said, adding that he feels abandoned by the international community due to a lack of pressure on the government.
“We have no friends in the world,” he said.
The Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) released a report detailing pre-election hate speech and disinformation, finding that most of it “alleges conspiracies between the NLD and Muslims”.
‘Extreme anti-Muslim sentiment’
Sithu Maung was a common target – one post falsely claimed he was demanding that school curriculums include Arabic lessons while another called him a “Muslim liar” and “communist cowboy”.
Another post attacked Kyaw Min’s daughter Wai Wai Nu, baselessly alleging she would take power from Aung San Suu Kyi if the constitution is amended. The report warns that “the hatred lingering after the election will easily be used to justify mass violence and conflict”.
BHRN, the human rights watchdog, said the content was primarily driven by “nationalists and pro-military posters”, scaring the NLD into adopting more explicitly anti-Muslim stances, sometimes even more extreme than the previous USDP government.
For example, the report claims that restrictions on Muslim places of worship have become more severe under the NLD government than the USDP. Kyaw Win, BHRN’s president, said the NLD has “never come up with a better strategy to counter the military propaganda,” other than adopting the same positions to avoid being cast as pro-Muslim.
Both major political parties appear united in their desire to portray themselves as anti-Rohingya.
Aung San Suu Kyi went to the International Court of Justice to defend the military against accusations of genocide, while the USDP chairman recently called the Rohingya “useless people” whom he cannot accept in Myanmar.
Exclusion of the Rohingya minority
Political analyst David Mathieson said having two Muslim candidates this year is “obviously progress, just not much improvement”.
“I don’t see that two Muslim candidates herald a near-future inclusion for the Rohingya, who are widely seen as not belonging in Myanmar. ‘Myanmar’ Muslims are seen quite differently, as belonging but under strict conditions of inferiority and mistrust,” he said.
Mathieson said the government should “prioritise facing down forces of religious and racial hatred and make the political system safe for Muslims”, but he does not “foresee major improvements any time soon” either for the Rohingya or other Myanmar Muslims.
Nay San Lwin said the NLD only included two Muslim candidates “to avoid international criticism” but does not think it marks significant progress for Muslims in Myanmar, especially the Rohingya.
“I don’t think one day Rohingya could have more political rights unless the ruling party decides to stop ongoing genocide and restore the rights of Rohingya. If NLD had a will to include us in this election, all Rohingya candidates would be approved,” he said.
Nay San Lwin said without Rohingya representation, Myanmar’s elections “will never be free and fair”.
Mathieson added that it is not just the Rohingya and other Muslims who have suffered under the government’s discriminatory policies, but other ethnic groups also feel “betrayed” by the NLD, which many now see as “synonymous” with the military in its treatment of minorities.
He said to make progress, the NLD needs to stop seeing ethnic minorities as “line-items on a dystopian master-list of identity hierarchy crafted by a race-obsessed military regime in the early 1990s.”
People wave flags atop cars in traffic during a demonstration to voice support for the people of Palestine, at Toronto City Hall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on 15 May 2021.
between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protesters in Montreal was condemned by
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
city police force intervened and declared the protests illegal after tensions
heightened and clashes broke out.
strikes killed 42 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the worst daily
toll in almost a week of clashes.
– Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday condemned the violence and
“despicable rhetoric” that marked several weekend protests throughout
the country, after clashes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters in
worst violence in years, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem, is raging between the
Jewish state and Islamist militants.
strikes killed 42 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the worst daily
toll in almost a week of deadly clashes.
after protests in Montreal, Trudeau condemned what he said was “despicable
rhetoric and violence we saw on display in some protests this weekend”.
Everyone has the right to assemble peacefully and express themselves freely in Canada – but we cannot and will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia, or hate of any kind. We strongly condemn the despicable rhetoric and violence we saw on display in some protests this weekend.
insisting on the “right to assemble peacefully and express themselves
freely in Canada”, Trudeau stressed in a tweet that there was no tolerance
for “antisemitism, Islamophobia, or hate of any kind”.
on Sunday, Montreal police used tear gas following clashes between pro-Israel
and pro-Palestinian protesters.
hundred demonstrators, draped in Israeli flags, had gathered in a central
Montreal square to express solidarity with the Jewish state.
‘Protesting is a right’
the protest started peacefully, tensions ratcheted up with the arrival of
pro-Palestinian demonstrators and clashes soon broke out.
SPVM, Montreal’s city police force, declared the protests illegal, and squads
of riot police intervened, using tear gas to separate and disperse the two
groups, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
police spent much of the afternoon in pursuit of the pro-Palestinian
protesters, who spread out and regrouped in commercial streets in the city centre.
the clashes, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said on Twitter that
“protesting is a right”, but that “intolerance, violence and
anti-Semitism have no place here”.
Montreal is a city of peace.
thousand pro-Palestinian demonstrators had gathered on Saturday in central
Montreal to denounce what they said were Israeli repression and “war
crimes” in Gaza.
Israel”, some protesters chanted, while others held up a banner that read,
“Stop the genocide of Palestinian children”.
protests happened the same day in multiple Canadian cities, including Toronto,
Ottawa and Vancouver.
“A new app is offering you the chance to do just that.”
When writer Brandon Wong recently couldn’t decide what takeaway to order one evening, he asked his followers on social media app NewNew to choose for him. Those that wanted to get involved in the 24-year-old’s dinner dilemma paid $5 (£3.50) to vote in a poll, and the majority verdict was that he should go for Korean food, so that was what he bought…
NewNew is the brainchild of Los Angeles-based entrepreneur Courtne Smith. The app, which is still in its “beta” or pre-full release stage, describes itself as “a human stock market where you buy shares in the lives of real people, in order to control their decisions and watch the outcome”. For many of us that sounds a bit ominous, but the reality is actually far less alarming. It is aimed at what it calls “creators” — writers, painters, musicians, fashion designers, bloggers etc. It is designed as a way for them to connect far more closely with their fans or followers than on other social media services and, importantly, monetise that connection…
Whenever a vote is cast the creator gets the money minus NewNew’s undisclosed commission… In addition to voting, followers can also pay extra — from $20 — to ask a NewNew creator to do something of their choosing, such as naming a character in a book after them. But the creator can reject all of these “bids”, and if they do so then the follower doesn’t have to part with the money…
Co-founder and chief executive Ms Smith, a 33-year-old Canadian, has big plans for NewNew, and has some heavyweight backers. Investors include Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, and the first outside person to put money into Facebook. Others with a stake in the business include leading US tech investment fund Andreessen Horowitz, and Hollywood actor Will Smith (no relation to Courtne). Snapchat has also given technical support.
Saker was Australia’s bowling coach when Bancroft was caught trying to rough up the ball with sandpaper during the third Test against South Africa.
While refusing to be drawn on who knew what, Saker said “the finger-pointing is going to go on and on and on”.
“It’s like the underarm, it’s never going to go away,” he told Fairfax Media, referring to a 1981 incident when Trevor Chappell bowled underarm to ensure New Zealand lost a one-day match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The notorious delivery is still cited in New Zealand and in cricketing circles as a prime example of unsporting conduct.
However, the ball-tampering scandal – dubbed “sandpapergate” – had a greater impact on Australian cricket, with the then-captain Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner suspended for a year from all cricket and stripped of their leadership roles.
Darren Lehmann also quit as coach and all the top brass from Cricket Australia left after a scathing review blasted their “arrogant and controlling” win-at-all-costs culture.
No one else among the team or coaching staff was held to account but Bancroft’s remarks in an interview with The Guardian newspaper hinted that the team’s bowlers at least knew about the plan.
“Obviously what I did benefits bowlers and the awareness around that, probably, is self-explanatory,” he said.
Saker added: “There was a lot of people to blame. It could have been me to blame, it could have been someone else. It could have been stopped and it wasn’t, which is unfortunate.
“Cameron’s a very nice guy. He’s just doing it to get something off his chest … He’s not going to be the last.”
In response, Cricket Australia said that if anyone had new information, they would look into it.
Saker said he was not opposed to a fresh investigation but added “I just don’t know what they’re going to find out.”
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Washington – Miss Mexico was crowned Miss Universe on Sunday in Florida, after fellow contestant Miss Myanmar used her stage time to draw attention to the bloody military coup in her country.
Sunday night marked the Miss Universe competition’s return to television, after the pageant was cancelled in 2020 for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Andrea Meza, 26, finished first ahead of the Brazilian and Peruvian finalists in a flashy televised event, hosted by American actor Mario Lopez and television personality Olivia Culpo.
Former Miss Universe contestants Cheslie Kryst, Paulina Vega and Demi-Leigh Tebow (who won the title in 2017) served as competition analysts and commentators, and a panel of eight women determined the winner.
Dressed in a sparkling red evening gown, Meza tearfully walked the catwalk as Miss Universe for the first time, before rushing back for a group hug with the other competitors.
Meza beat more than 70 contestants from around the globe in the 69th installment of Miss Universe, which was held at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
In the days leading up to the final competition, Miss Myanmar Thuzar Wint Lwin, who made the top 21, made waves when she used her time in the spotlight to bring attention to the coup in her country.
“Our people are dying and being shot by the military every day,” she said during her biographical video, which showed photos of her taking part in the anti-coup protests. “Therefore I would like to urge everyone to speak out about Myanmar.”
She also won the award for best national costume: during that competition segment on Thursday, she wore an outfit beaded in traditional Burmese patterns and held up a sign that said, “Pray for Myanmar.”
Myanmar has been in uproar since February 1, when the army ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
At least 796 people have been killed by security forces since then, according to a local monitoring group, while nearly 4 000 people are behind bars.
Miss Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong – who did not make the top 21 – also used the national costume portion to make a political statement.
Dressed in a glittering red bodysuit and matching thigh-high boots, she turned around to reveal her cape – in the colours of the Singaporean flag – was painted with the words “Stop Asian Hate.”
“What is this platform for if I can’t use it to send a strong message of resistance against prejudice and violence?” she wrote on Instagram alongside pictures of her outfit.
The United States in particular has seen a surge in anti-Asian violence in the past year, which activists have blamed on former president Donald Trump’s rhetoric, especially his repeated description of Covid-19 as the “China virus.”
The pageant has also drawn criticism in the past for objectifying the contestants.
In recent years, the competition has shifted image, focusing more on female empowerment and activism.