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Myanmar Migrant Workers in Thailand Hopeful, Wary After Election

  • Ron Corben

People read local newspapers at a roadside journal shop in Yangon, Myanmar, Nov. 11, 2015.

People read local newspapers at a roadside journal shop in Yangon, Myanmar, Nov. 11, 2015.

Many of Thailand's migrant workers and refugees from Myanmar are watching closely the formation of a new government in Myanmar after the strong showing in the weekend elections by the National League for Democracy (NLD).

But key community representatives say many migrant workers are cautiously optimistic a new government will provide the support they need to improve their lives.

Only a small fraction of the more than 2 million Myanmar workers and refugees living in Thailand were able to cast a vote in Myanmar’s national elections.

Hopes for NLD

But for most, their hopes lie in the possibility of change, as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD took a commanding lead in vote counting.

FILE - A refugee from Myanmar sits with her sick child at the Mae Tao clinic in the bordering town of Mae Sot, Oct. 30, 2015. Migrants have mixed emotions over Myanmar's election - hope that a hated government will be defeated, and fear of the uncertain future such an upheaval might bring.

FILE - A refugee from Myanmar sits with her sick child at the Mae Tao clinic in the bordering town of Mae Sot, Oct. 30, 2015. Migrants have mixed emotions over Myanmar's election - hope that a hated government will be defeated, and fear of the uncertain future such an upheaval might bring.

​Min Oo, a coordinator with the Foundation for Education and Development in southern Phang Na province, which assists migrant workers in the fishing and agriculture industries, said many are already looking to the formation of the new government.

“Right now the feeling they have is like they wanted to get a new government; they just wanted the NLD to win. But for the workers (now what is) the future plan, the future government, what new government will help them – this is the kind of things for them to be thinking about," Min Oo said.

Thailand has also been a sanctuary for refugees fleeing Myanmar’s interethnic conflicts.

In the northwestern town of Mae Sot, ethnic Karen doctor Cynthia Muang oversees a clinic caring for more than 130,000 patients a year. She said the unfolding political situation in Myanmar needs to be closely watched.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, center, leaves the headquarters of the National League of Democracy (NLD) after she made a speech to a small crowd and the media in Yangon, Nov. 9, 2015.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, center, leaves the headquarters of the National League of Democracy (NLD) after she made a speech to a small crowd and the media in Yangon, Nov. 9, 2015.

“We still have to continue monitoring post-election for a few months – three to four months – because the relationship with the military and civilian or new government and military. Also, the challenge the new government has in dealing with regional cease-fire agreements – so all these issues we need to closely monitor," Muang said.

Health reforms

She said she hopes a new government will lead the way to health reforms and improved medical infrastructure so people will no longer need to cross the border into Thailand to access health care at the clinic.

Many recall the NLD’s election landslide victory of 1990, only to see the result dismissed by the ruling military.

Min Oo said he remains skeptical.

“Even though now we confirm the NLD has won, but still, for me, I am still in doubt they (the military) are willing to hand NLD the power," he said.

NLD ader Aung San Suu Kyi Wednesday called for “national reconciliation” talks with Myanmar’s current leaders as the NLD’s victory appeared to be almost certain.

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