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Parties fail to meet UEC deadline on white cards

(Photo: Irrawaddy)

By Ei Ei Toe Lwin
January 12, 2015

Barely 10 parties have informed the Union Election Commission of their compliance with a recent law change that bans temporary ID card holders from being party members, according to a commission official.

Myanmar’s 65 registered parties had been given until January 9 to comply with the change to the Political Parties Registration Law, which was signed by President U Thein Sein on September 30, four days after it was approved by parliament.

In November, the commission gave parties two months to remove members who fail to meet the criteria and submit updated membership lists.

However, commission deputy director general U Hla Maung Cho said on January 8 that few have complied with the order to remove holders of temporary IDs, which are commonly referred to as white cards.

“About 10 parties have informed us that they have removed white-card-holding members,” he said.

U Hla Maung Cho confirmed that the National League for Democracy had requested and been granted an extra month to comply.

“They were the only party to request an extension,” he said.

U Hla Maung Cho refused to give the exact number or the names of the parties that had sent updated lists, or how many members they had removed.

All parties are required to send updated member lists regardless of whether they have removed members.

Under the previous version of the law, all citizens and “temporary certificate holders” were 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.

After receiving updated member lists, the commission will verify them with the Immigration Department.

The UEC has previously warned that parties found to have or accept non-citizens as members could be abolished. However, it remains unclear what action parties that do not comply will face.

“We have not received any instruction from our superiors as to what we should do about those parties that did not inform us whether they changed their membership,” U Hla Maung Cho said.

In October, commission chair U Tin Aye said the UEC would investigate any complaints it receives of parties having a non-citizen among their ranks.

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 rather than the Citizenship Scrutiny Cards issued to citizens.

A spokesperson for one of these groups, the National Development and Peace Party, described the amendments as “unfair” but said the party had sent its updated membership list to the UEC last month.

“I believe this rule change is unfair and just targets [Rohingya] but we followed the law because we respect the law,” said Mohammad Salim.

Mohammad Salim was one of 1200 members of the NDPP who was forced to quit the party, as he does not hold a valid identity card.

“But many of those who hold white cards would be eligible for citizenship if the government implemented the 1982 Citizenship Law correctly. Now, they are trying to ban our participation in politics,” he said.

NLD spokesperson U Nyan Win said the party was in the process of complying with the order.

“We have instructed the village and township levels to make sure that our membership is in accordance with the amended law but we haven’t got [the members lists] back from them,” he said. “They’re still working on [it] … so we asked the UEC for more time … and they agreed.”

U Thar Win, the Union Solidarity and Development Party’s Yangon Region general secretary, said the party had removed its white-card holders.

He said the regional office had sent its updated lists to headquarters but he was unsure whether this had been forwarded to the election commission.

The process is also under way in northern Rakhine State, where the majority of Myanmar’s estimated 850,000 white-card holders live.

U Shwe Maung, the USDP MP for Buthidaung and a self-described Rohingya, said that many white card-holding USDP members in his constituency feel betrayed by the new guidelines. “As an MP I have to respect the law, but personally I represent my people, and my people are feeling so bad,” he said.

He said he plans to submit a draft bill during the coming session of parliament, which begins on January 19, that would create a streamlined process for white-card holders to apply for citizenship. This would in turn allow them to participate in party activities in the coming national elections, he said.

“If this solution cannot be implemented before the election it will be a loss of human rights for my people.”

However, the political winds appear to be blowing against political rights for Rohingya, who are officially referred to as Bengalis by the government.

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

The RNP is also pushing for an amendment to electoral laws that would ban white-card holders from voting.

Additional reporting by Bill O’Toole

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