'Disinterested' youths among 30m voters

The Burmese government has announced that 30.7 million people are eligible to vote in elections this year, more than half the country’s population.

Of these, 52 percent are in the 20-39 age range, the demographic most likely to cast votes, the immigration and population ministry said. Burma has a population of more than 59 million, and voters must be aged 18 or over.

While a third of eligible voters are between 40 and 59 years old, concerns have arisen over the apparent lack of interest in elections shown by Burma’s younger generations.

The editor of a magazine targeting Burma’s youths said that many still know little about the controversial 2008 constitution, which paved the way for elections this year, and “remain distant from politics”.

A 28-year-old computer expert said however that the “circumstances in Burma”, which has been under military rule for nearly 50 years, “provokes [youths’] attention”, although added that recent election laws that curb public exposure of competing parties could affect this.

“In other countries, political party members after forming the party can give speeches and are allowed to campaign. But [in Burma], there is nothing, no public movement.”

No date has yet been set for the country’s first elections in 20 years, but they are rumoured to be held in October. Nearly 40 parties have so far been approved to run, including the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is headed by current Burmese prime minister, Thein Sein.

But much of the opposition to military rule in Burma over the past few decades has come from the country’s youth: angry student groups, such as the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), were the leading force behind the now-infamous 1988 uprising, which was brutally put down by the Burmese army.

Many of these groups fled to the jungle and took up arms, becoming key opposition forces amongst the so-called pro-democracy movement. Their influence has now however waned, with many leaders fleeing the country or put behind bars.

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