John Zaw for ucanews.com in Mandalay & Hla-Hla Htay for AFP in NaypyidawUpdated: April 24, 2015 02:13 PM GMT
A protester chants slogans as he holds a banner opposing a law granting voting rights to temporary citizens in Myanmar, during a demonstration in Yangon, on Wednesday (AFP Photo/Soe Than Win)
Myanmar officials said Wednesday that identity cards for people without full citizenship, including Muslim Rohingya, will expire within weeks, snatching away voting rights handed to them just a day earlier after nationalists protested the move.
The Rohingya, along with hundreds of thousands of people in mainly ethnic minority border areas who held the documents ostensibly as part of a process of applying for citizenship, will see their ID cards expire at the end of March, according to a statement from the office of President Thein Sein issued late Wednesday.
"Those who are holding temporary identity cards must give back the expired registration documents,” the statement said.
The move effectively overrides a clause giving holders of temporary IDs the right to vote in a constitutional referendum in a bill enacted with presidential approval on Tuesday.
The dramatic about-face came after dozens of protesters gathered in Yangon Wednesday to call on the government to ban those without full citizenship from voting in the proposed referendum.
The issue has ignited indignation among some Buddhists in restive Rakhine state, where approximately half a million Rohingya Muslims are estimated to hold white cards.
Pe Than, a lower house lawmaker from Myaebon constituency in Rakhine state, cautiously welcome the move by the president but said he will wait and see whether the ban continues.
“The main concerns are that temporary card holders would ask for full citizenship and for voting rights in the upcoming general election if they are allowed to have voting rights for the constitutional referendum,” Pe Than told ucanews.com on Thursday.
The president’s move came as a surprise to many and the details remain unclear. The president’s office director Zaw Htay’s said in a Facebook post, however, that the move “automatically annuls” the right of voting by the temporary card-holders.
Kyaw Soe Aung, a spokesman for the Yangon-based Muslim party Democracy and Human Rights, said he believed the move could well be short sighted.
“If the president’s move is to appease local people who protest on white-card voting rights, it has the negative effect for the white-card holders. As white cards will be invalid at the end of March, they have no documents at their hands so they can’t vote for a constitutional referendum,” Kyaw Soe Aung told ucanews.com on Thursday.
White card holders were able to vote in the 2010 elections, a move seen as benefiting the army-backed party in the much-criticized vote, which ushered in the country's quasi-civilian government.
Thein Than Oo, a Mandalay-based rights lawyer, said the president’s announcement was a strategic move aimed at appeasement, as outcry from monks and civilians emerges.
“There is a law on citizenship and non-citizenship so the white-card issue is the task of the executive and not the parliament. That’s why the parliament has to await the decision of the Constitutional tribunal,” Thein Than Oo told ucanews.com on Thursday.