Cardinal Charles Maung Bo (right) with Myanmar military chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing after visiting St. Mary's Cathedral in Yangon on Christmas Day last year. (Photo: AFP)
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon has appealed to Myanmar’s government to scrap the constitutional provision which prohibits members of religious orders from voting in elections.
He is concerned that Article 392(a) of the constitution bars Buddhist monks and nuns, Catholic priests, nuns and religious, other Christian clergy, Muslim clerics and others from the right to vote.
“As cardinal I can make statements and speeches and encourage citizens to vote, but I am myself barred from voting. This is an extremely unusual arrangement. I am not aware of any other democracy in which this is a requirement,” he said.
In a written appeal released on Feb. 6, Cardinal Bo said it was not his duty as a religious leader to identify parties or leaders to support.
“But as a country soaked in a great religious tradition and where religious leaders serve as moral guides, it is the duty of every religious leader to encourage all citizens to vote for the leader and party of their choice based on values,” he asserted.
The outspoken cardinal, who is president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, said voting is a sacred duty and a pilgrimage of human dignity. “Those who shirk this sacred responsibility do so at their own peril,” he said.
Myanmar, which is in a transition to democracy after decades of military rule, is holding a general election late this year.
The 72-year-old cardinal said the enthusiastic participation of Myanmar’s people in elections showed their hunger for a robust democracy despite mixed results over the last five years.
“With patience, people of Myanmar need to invest their faith in democracy through vigorous participation in the next election,” Cardinal Bo wrote.
“What values can we expect from the contesting parties? Democracy came to this country at a great personal price of many gallant men and women.”
Peace and human rights for everyone
Cardinal Bo highlighted human dignity and the protection of human rights as Myanmar moves toward democracy.
“Democracy is a sacrosanct principle built on the holy land of human dignity, articulated in the promotion and protection of human rights — right to life, right to livelihood, right to education, right to religion, right to language and right to land,” he said.
“The option for the poorest and most vulnerable is welded into the human rights discourse. Human dignity from womb to tomb was their dream and our dream too.”
The cardinal outlined the challenges facing his country, describing it as “a wounded nation” where millions of its young people had gone to work in nearby countries “in modern forms of slavery.”
“Those who will bring enduring peace based on justice, removing all discrimination, would be doing historic good to this nation,” he said.
“Peace, reconciliation, harmony among communities, non-discrimination, human development and health are some of our urgent needs. Citizens need to identify parties and individuals who actively support the realization of these needs.
“Vote not for a party or an individual. Vote for a peaceful, prosperous Myanmar of tomorrow.
“I hope that these elections will be conducted in a way that is peaceful, respectful, democratic, free and fair and that takes our country forward towards peace and human rights for everyone, of every ethnicity and religion.”