Myanmar releases voter app criticised for Rohingya label, despite EU objection

(Reuters) - Myanmar’s election commission has released a smartphone app criticised over its use of a derogatory label for Rohingya Muslims despite entreaties by its European Union funders to remove controversial data.

The mVoter2020 app, aimed at improving voter awareness, labels at least two candidates from the Rohingya ethnic group as “Bengali”, a term that implies they are immigrants from Bangladesh and is rejected by many Rohingya.

After campaign group Justice for Myanmar said last week the app risked inflaming nationalism, a website shared by the election commission directing people to download it went offline and a mobile version was not available.

But the mobile app has been available to download since Saturday with candidates’ race and religion data listed, and that of their parents, and a web version is also accessible.

Pierre Michel, public diplomacy adviser to the EU’s Myanmar mission, said the EU had “strongly advocated for the removal of all controversial data that could lead to discrimination and exclusion”, declining to comment further.

The Union Election Commission (UEC) did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.

The app was developed by the election commission, with support from STEP Democracy, an EU-funded project implemented in Myanmar by the Sweden-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), and the U.S.-based Asia Foundation.

Donors have sought to distance themselves from the app, saying the UEC is solely responsible for its content and removing social media posts detailing their involvement.

A Rohingya candidate listed as “Bengali” on the app was disqualified from running on Friday after the UEC said it had found his parents were not citizens, though it was not clear if the decision was connected to the app.

Marcus Brand, the country director of International IDEA, said the organisation regretted “that any candidates have been targeted, harassed or attacked over their ethnicity or religious affiliation” but said the declaration of ethnicity and religion was an integral part of Myanmar’s electoral process.

He said he had been informed the candidate disqualification was “not related to the app or the current controversy”.

The Asia Foundation did not respond to requests for comment.

Editing by Robert Birsel