Five thousand non-citizen White Card holders have been forced to renounce their membership of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
A new law means that holders of White Cards, which afford holders legal status in the form of temporary residency and voting rights, are no longer permitted join political parties. The Union Election Commission (UEC) recently threatened parties with severe penalties, including dissolution, if non-citizens were not expelled.
NLD spokesperson Nyan Win confirmed that his party had been instructed as per a UEC letter to expel White Card holders from the party’s ranks.
“On 9 March, we sent the Union Electoral Commission a list of members from nine or 10 or administrative regions across the country,” the NLD Central Executive Committee member told DVB. “ The members on the list were neither expelled nor dismissed but instructed to resign as party members to conform to the law. We have more lists to send from two remaining administrative regions.”
Until recently, White Card holders have had greater political rights.
They were permitted to vote in elections, though a parliamentary decision in February to allow temporary citizens to cast a vote in Burma’s constitutional referendum, due later this year, was reneged on after vocal outrage from MPs and civil society groups.
But White Card holders are not only in danger of losing their recourse to politics. The cards are set to expire at the end of this month.
NLD Youth Leader Nay Soe Aung said the party would encourage the granting of citizenship to those set to be without legal status.
“The law said accepting non-citizens as party members could lead to punishments such as party dissolution. We are urging Immigration Officials to give citizenship to those who are eligible and qualify,” Nay Soe Aung said.
“At the moment, they can’t take part in politics, but if they become citizens, they will be able to reapply for party membership.”
An estimated 850,000 people hold the ID cards in Burma, first issued in 1995. As many as 500,000 of those are members of the non-recognised Rohingya population of Arakan State, also known as Rakhine State, where communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims has been accompanied by political tensions along religious lines.
The campaign against suffrage for White Card holders was spearheaded by the Rakhine Nationalist Party, which objects to the disproportionate gain that the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party are likely to receive from Rohingya votes. Following the campaign, the government announced that white cards would not be renewed when they expire at the end of this month, effectively overturning the decision to grant non-citizens suffrage in the referendum, and plunging card holders into an uncertain future.
Under the 2010 Political Parties Registration Law, temporary citizens were also allowed to form political parties, though this was changed in September 2014 when this right was reserved for “full citizens” only.
Colour-coded “citizens scrutiny cards” were first introduced in 1989, with pink cards for full citizens, blue cards for associate citizens, and green for naturalised citizens. The Rohingya were not issued with any cards. In 1995, in response to advocacy efforts from the United Nations to document the Rohingyas, the Burmese authorities started issuing them with white temporary registration cards.