Myanmar election a 'window of opportunity,' he says
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo talks to ucanews.com in an exclusive interview in his residence at the compound of St. Mary's Cathedral in Yangon on Sept 23. (Photo by John Zaw)
By John Zaw, Yangon
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon is urging voters to choose candidates and parties that promote a culture of democracy, human rights and reconciliation during the Nov. 8 general election.
In a written appeal addressed to "all Myanmar people," released Sept. 24, the cardinal said citizens need to make the forthcoming election a true exercise of democracy, which he described as "a long and arduous journey."
"Voting is a fundamental right in a democracy," Cardinal Bo wrote in his appeal. "Please fulfill your sacred duty in this election. Please go to the booth. Vote for the right candidates of your choice."
In an interview with ucanews.com days before his missive was released, Cardinal Bo said he wanted to urge people to vote because "this is a very important time for our country, which needs to be changed."
"The system that has been ruled by old elites didn't bring any change," Cardinal Bo said. "So people need to be aware of who will bring real change."
In the past, the cardinal has spoken out on human rights issues, including the treatment of ethnic Rohingya Muslims who are regularly denied citizenship and basic social services.
In a 10-point guide in the appeal, Cardinal Bo detailed the attributes he said voters should look for when selecting worthy candidates. These included an ability to work with "different ethnic groups and religions" in the Buddhist-majority country.
He also referenced the thorny issue of the controversial China-funded Myitsone Dam project, encouraging voters to choose candidates and parties that "safeguard the country's nature and natural resources, protecting our forests and not selling our sacred rivers and resources to foreign powers."
In the interview, Cardinal Bo said some may perceive his guidelines as "an attack" on the current government.
"They might dislike it, but I need to speak out as it is the reality of our country's situation," he said.
The 67-year-old cardinal said that the Church can play a role in Myanmar's politics by giving election guidance to people at Mass, and by distributing pamphlets outside of church services.
"[The] election is a great window of opportunity [for] this nation," he concluded in his Sept. 24 appeal. "Peace and prosperity are the fruits of [a] free and fair election."
The cardinal's appeal comes as political parties in Myanmar push forward with their campaigns ahead of the elections in November. The government sanctioned campaign period started Sept. 8.
Many observers see the poll as a test of Myanmar's democratic reforms. The country, which is impoverished but rich in resources, is in a transition to democracy after emerging from five decades of military rule.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is backed by the military, are the main competitors in this election, which is likely to be the freest and most hotly contested in 25 years.
Read Cardinal Charles Maung Bo's appeal in full: A Fervent Plea for a Fair and Free Election