Myanmar election app goes offline, has been criticized over label for Rohingya


YANGON (Reuters) - A smartphone app produced for Myanmar’s Nov. 8 election with help from international organizations appears to have been removed from circulation and may be amended after criticism over its use of a label for Rohingya Muslims that the Rohingya view as derogatory.

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

The app was not available to download for mobile and a web version was inaccessible on Friday, bringing up an error message that read "Server is temporarily closed".

Marcus Brand, the country director of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), which is based in Stockholm and helped develop the app, said he understood it had been removed while discussions were ongoing but did not have further details.

Brand said the group was advising the removal of contentious words used to identify candidates' ethnic background.

“We are advocating the electoral authorities to remove this information from the app in order to ensure candidate security and... increase the integrity of the process,” he told Reuters, adding he hoped the app would go back online soon.

The app was developed by Myanmar's Union Election Commission (UEC), with support from STEP Democracy, a European Union-funded project implemented in Myanmar by International IDEA, and the U.S.-based Asia Foundation.

Pierre Michel, public diplomacy adviser to the EU's Myanmar mission, told Reuters the EU "should have been warned about the inclusion of discriminatory data" in the app and was "considering all options" as to how to respond.

The UEC and Asia Foundation did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Brand said International IDEA's role was to digitize candidate registration forms for a database and that it did not have “technical nor editorial control” over the app's content. The UEC requires applicants to submit citizenship documents that classify them by their race and religion.

"We do not generally think that advertising the ethnic and religious identification of candidates is advisable in the Myanmar context,” Brand said.

Activist group Justice for Myanmar said in a statement on Wednesday that the app risked “inflaming ethnic and religious nationalism during the election”.

Aye Win, one of the Rohingya candidates, told Reuters he was informed by the UEC on Friday that he was being disqualified, although it was not clear if this was related to the app.

(Editing by Frances Kerry)

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