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Parties given two months to oust non-citizens

Tin Aye, chairman of the Union Election Commission, is seen giving a speech in this photo. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

By Ei Ei Toe Lwin
October 24, 2014

Political parties will have a little over two months to ensure they comply with new rules that ban them from accepting non-citizens as members, says Union Election Commission chairman U Tin Aye.

Parties have been told to inform the UEC of any changes to their central executive committee or membership list by January 16, he said, adding that parties found to be in breach of the law could be abolished.

“Only citizens can set up political parties. The [UEC] will give two months for you to check your members. If you have any changes, let us know again,” U Tin Aye said.

After receiving the member list, the commission will have it checked by the Immigration Department.

If the UEC receives a complaint that a party has accepted a non-citizen as a member it will conduct an investigation, U Tin Aye said.

“We already have a 15-member committee to investigate complaints. If a party is found to have non-citizens, we will warn them to remove that member as the first step. If they refuse we will definitely revoke their registration.”

Amendments to the Political Parties Registration Law were signed by President U Thein Sein on September 30, four days after they were approved by parliament.

Under the previous version of the law, all citizens and “temporary certificate holders” are allowed to start or join a political party. The amendment, however, enables only full citizens to be central executive committee members – of which a party must have 15 – and bars temporary citizens from holding party membership.

As The Myanmar Times has previously reported, the change will most affect the three parties formed by politicians who identify as Rohingya. Most hold temporary identification documents – known as white cards – rather than the Citizenship Scrutiny Cards issued to citizens.

The amendments were proposed by the Rakhine National Party. Leader U Aye Maung said last week the RNP wills “definitely be watching” whether other parties comply with the changes.

“We will probably send a complaint to the UEC if we have evidence” that another party has non-citizens as members, he said.

But he also questioned whether the UEC should be taking a more pro-active role in rooting out non-citizens from registered political parties. “The UEC has a duty to check each party's members. It doesn’t make sense that they will only take action when they receive a complaint,” he said.

A spokesperson for the National Development and Peace Party described the amendments as “unfair” but said it would do its best to comply. He said many of those who hold white cards would be eligible for citizenship if the government implemented the 1982 Citizenship Law correctly.

"We have no choice because we are minority,” said Mohammad Salim. “They should not decide whether some has the right to participate in politics based on citizenship alone. We [Muslims holding white cards] are eligible for citizenship according to the law.”

The RNP has submitted amendments to two additional elections laws, one of which will strip white card holders of the right to vote, including more than 1 million people in Rakhine State.

However, it remains unclear whether this law will gain majority support in parliament, particularly given concerns it could dramatically inflame tensions in Rakhine State.

In its latest report, Myanmar: The Politics of Rakhine State, released on October 22, the International Crisis Group warned that it “would be a highly controversial move, and in Rakhine State could be incendiary”.

“The Rohingya see their ability to vote as their last remaining connection to politics and means of influence. Without this, there will be no Rohingya representatives in the legislature, and no reason for any party to take account of their views, even peripherally. It would be hard for the Rohingya community to avoid the conclusion that politics had failed them,” it said.

But U Tin Aye said he expected the amendment to pass.

“It is up to the parliament to decide," U Tin Aye said last week. “I think they will change it soon.”

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