11/04/2015, 00.00
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For Myanmar cardinal, elections are a "sacred pilgrimage" towards democracy and freedom

by Francis Khoo Thwe
The archbishop of Yangon talks to AsiaNews about his country’s democratic process. “[T]hough painful, [it] is in full flow now.” Despite fears about vote rigging, he does not expect the “merchants of hatred to turn this election into a nightmare.” He calls on Catholics to vote for candidates who promote justice and compassion.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - "In Myanmar, democracy is a sacred pilgrimage," passing through "tribulations, doubts and frequent setbacks,” said Card Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon.  The fierce campaign is a "democratic process,” which “though painful, is in full flow now”.

The prelate, Myanmar’s first cardinal, spoke to AsiaNews about next Sunday’s parliamentary election. For him, the media and ordinary voters must remain vigilant to ensure that the election is free and fair. In his view, a “handful of merchants of hatred” should not turn the electoral process into “a nightmare”.

Despite concerns about how migrants and minority regions might vote, optimism still prevails. “People are seeking justice, peace and prosperity after 60 years of darkness,” and discriminating people based on religion is not part of Buddhism”.

Calling on Christians to “Look for candidates who show our people the right way, the just way, the compassionate way,” he hopes to see "light" in a country that has been prey to injustice, poverty, and hatred for far too long.

Cardinal Bo’s interview with AsiaNews follows:

In your opinion, will the November 8 elections be a step forward for Myanmar’s democracy and democratization?

In other parts of the world, Democracy is a political activity. In Myanmar, democracy is a sacred pilgrimage. Jesus journey on the Calvary was marked by tribulations, doubts and frequent setbacks. Despite all challenges, I do believe this election is a step forward. From a totalitarian country, today 93 parties are contesting this election. The aspiration in the human heart to be free is expressed today in the streets of Myanmar. Democracy is a process and I am happy that the fierce contest is a sign that the democratic process, though painful, is in full flow now. I am optimistic that ethnic parties, Myanmar opposition are contesting almost all the seats, challenging all hegemonies. I welcome the contest. Let the people’s voice be accepted.

Will it be a “free and fair” vote? Are there risks of fraud and manipulation?

There cannot be pessimistic conjectures now. I hope the vigilant press and the people of Myanmar will ensure a free and fair election. There are rumours of lumpen elements trying to create chaos. Sporadic violence causes anxiety, but that is not the norm. Myanmar people have waited too long to taste real democracy and they would not allow a handful of merchants of hatred to turn this election to nightmare.

There could be manipulations surely, if vigilance is lowered. Especially the postal votes can be manipulated. Thousands do not find their names in the electoral roles. Of course, 27 percent of the population do not have identity cards etc. Government made an effort to bring them in but I doubt this section will get to vote. There were very serious concerns in Thailand where nearly a million migrant workers should have voted but only a few thousands voted. Malaysia too has millions. I am not sure their eagerness will be met by official enthusiasm.

I read in an interview that you talked about a “new system” for the country. After the vote can we hope that military rule (by the junta, its cronies and representatives in Parliament) will be over?

Myanmar is a rich country, opened recently for looting. In the last four years of “democracy” 30 percent of our forests disappeared. Reports say that last year 31 billion dollars’ worth of Jade was sold from Myanmar. This should have made our people one of the richest on the globe. But the country ranks high in infant and maternal mortality. Those who learned to steal will never learn any other noble

Profession. I do not think cronies and their masters will disappear. These men are slaves of neighbouring countries, selling their natural wealth for paper money. A true federal system that would enhance community based natural resource management is the only way ahead. A true federal state is the only guarantee for peace and environmental justice. A democracy that is truly devolved and decentralized will bring a prosperous and peaceful Myanmar.

How important is it to keep religion and politics separate in this particular historical period for Myanmar? Do you think someone is abusing religion for other (i.e. electoral) purposes?

Of course, neo liberal economy and neo fascism are strange bedfellows. Europe used it with disastrous results. Fringe elements, beneficiaries of cronies, are debasing religion. Myanmar has a graceful

Theravada Buddhism. We have nearly 500,000 monks and 70,000 nuns. They are an inspiring witness to life of renunciation and compassion. Metta (Mercy) and Karuna (compassion) are the two eyes of a real Buddhist. Sadly, merchants of hatred are abusing religion and trying to play a political role. Democracy brings ‘vote bank’ politics. People are seeking justice, peace and prosperity after 60 years of darkness. Preaching hatred, discriminating people based on religion is not part of Buddhism. I am confident the great people of Myanmar will always live up to the reputation as peace loving people. Despite all efforts to poison the minds on communalism, people have proved that they are beyond all these parochial prophets of doom.

Last but not least, what can you say to the country’s Christians and Catholic voters? Do you want to appeal to them through AsiaNews?

We are Christians. We are citizens of Myanmar. Ours is a shared history. Our ethnic brothers and sister have chosen Christianity as their preferred religion.” For all election is very important,

I do not endorse any party but urge all Christians to exercise your basic right to vote. Go to the booth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the Light. Look for candidates who show our people the right way, the just way, the compassionate way, vote for candidates who are truthful in their words and deeds, vote for candidates who can bring Light to this nation, expelling all darkness of injustice, poverty and hatred.

Let a Myanmar of Justice, Peace, and Prosperity rise in this nation.

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