President backtracks on white cards

President backtracks on white cards

In a major backflip, the government has responded to growing protests against parliament’s decision to allow holders of temporary ID cards – better known as white cards – to vote in a planned referendum by cancelling the cards from the end of next month.

The move will mostly affect the Muslim Rohingya, who account for about 600,000 of the 700,000 cards, according to the Ministry of Immigration.

The notification from the President’s Office said the cards would expire on March 31. Holders of the documents, which are also known as white cards, will be required to hand them over to the authorities by May 31 and apply for citizenship in accordance with existing laws.

The notification also stated that an advisory commission will be formed to “review laws, rules and regulations and tasks” related to the ID temporary cards.

It comes just a day after the president signed a bill giving white card-holders the right to vote in a planned constitutional referendum. Parliament had originally voted against allowing white card-holders to vote but reversed its decision at the request of the president.

The decision sparked widespread protests, particularly in the Rakhine State capital Sittwe. Dozens of people marched through Yangon on February 11, and the decision to cancel the cards was announced later that evening.

In Sittwe, protests began on February 5 following a meeting of leaders from community-based groups.

“Every house in Sittwe is displaying a Buddhist flag and a letter written to disapprove of and object to the decision of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw to let white card holders vote,” said Daw Nyo Aye, a member of a committee coordinating the protests.

While the Rohingya – officially known as Bengalis – are thought to hold most of the white cards, other minorities are also likely to be affected.

During a debate in parliament over the issue, Wa representative Sai Paung Nap said there were “so many” people in Myanmar’s border areas who hold white cards rather than permanent citizenship documents, such as the pink-coloured Citizenship Scrutiny Cards.

“In border areas, many people have no CSC – they are very difficult to get,” he said. “If [white card-holders] have no chance to vote, they will lose their rights as citizens.”

In an earlier interview, Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Buthidaung U Shwe Maung, a self-described Rohingya whose constituency has many white card-holders, said many of those who hold the cards would be eligible for citizenship but in the past the government has refused to process their applications.

“White card-holders were given white cards by force. Since independence they have been holding National Registration Cards until 1990,” he said.

“All over Myanmar if the applicant and parents held an NRC then they got a Citizenship Scrutiny Card. A lot of Rohingya outside Rakhine received a CSC. But in Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Sittwe [townships] the applications were left pending. In 1994 the government instead issued white cards.

“We know these cards are not valid according to the 1982 citizenship law. It is quite unfair [that applicants were given white cards] – they are the descendants of citizens.” – Additional reporting by Htoo Thant

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