US concerned Muslims being excluded from Myanmar vote

A supporters looks on as Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers her address at a rally at Mawlamyaing, Mon State on May 16, 2015 (AFP Photo/Ye Aung Thu)

Washington (AFP) - The United States expressed concern Thursday that preparations for Myanmar's landmark elections have been undermined by moves to exclude Muslim minority candidates from the ballot.

Myanmar will vote on November 8 in what many hope will be its most free vote in generations after decades of army rule, with Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party widely tipped to make huge gains.

But tension is rising in the Buddhist-majority country which in recent years has seen outbursts of deadly unrest against its Muslim minority.

"The United States is concerned about the disqualification of approximately 100 candidates for Burma's upcoming general election," State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

"We are aware of reports that almost all Muslim candidates have been disqualified, including some current members of parliament," he said.

"Yet the relevant authorities have yet to provide the specific reasons for which they did not meet these criteria."

Kirby complained that a quarter of seats have been reserved for supporters of the former military junta and branded the procedure for excluding candidates "an opaque and discriminatory process."

This, he said, "risks undermining the confidence of the Burmese people and the international community in these elections."

"We urge the Burmese authorities to redouble their efforts to address these concerns and ensure that the upcoming elections constitute a step forward for the country," Kirby said.

Religious unrest has overshadowed reform efforts as Myanmar, with strong US encouragement, emerges from military rule under a quasi-civilian transitional government which came into power in 2011.

Myanmar has seen sporadic outbursts of anti-Muslim violence since 2012 and this has spread across the country in tandem with the rise in influence of nationalist Buddhist clerics.

Hundreds of thousands of members of Myanmar's persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority were disenfranchised in March when their identification documents were revoked.

A former darling of international rights advocates, Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi has come under pressure to speak out for minority rights.

Instead, she has accused opponents of using the religious issue to tarnish her National League for Democracy party, and neither she nor the ruling party has put forward any Muslim candidate.