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Former white-card holders cut from Rakhine voter lists

By Lun Min Mang
June 25, 2015

Rakhine State electoral officials have posted voter lists for public inspection ahead of the November general elections and, as expected, several hundred thousand Rohingya Muslims who hold only temporary ID documents had their disenfranchisement confirmed.

An Aung Mingalar resident checks for his name on the voting list at the ward administration office in Sittwe on June 22. (Kaung Htet/The Myanmar Times)

Sittwe district election sub-commission chair U Oo Tun Thar said yesterday the electoral rolls did not include former “white-card” holders.

“In the past they had been permitted to vote in both elections [2010 general election and 2012 by-election]. But now they are no longer allowed to do so. That’s why we don’t include them in the eligible voter lists,” he said.

In February, the government declared the documents invalid from March 31 under pressure from Buddhist nationalists, while parliament has since amended electoral laws to remove voting rights for white-card holders. The Constitutional Tribunal has also ruled that temporary ID holders cannot vote.

In Sittwe, election officials with loudspeakers and public announcements urged residents to turn out and check that their names and data were correctly presented on the lists.

But Ko Soe Naing, a Sittwe resident, said public interest seemed to be low. “We are fed up with the political parties’ self-interest-oriented politics. That may be a reason for less people out there checking their lists.”

But he also said ethnic Rakhines were keeping an eye on the lists to ensure that former white-card holders were excluded. “Many people are interested in that matter. If they are included, that could be manipulation,” he said.

Disenfranchisement of the Rohin-gya community could help the Rakhine National Party, dominated by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, achieve its goal of sweeping all seats in the state in November, both for the national parliament and the state assembly.

The National League for Democracy led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has little support in Rakhine, where it is seen as representing the interests of the country’s Bamar majority. While she is criticised internationally for not speaking out about abuses against the Rohingya, she is conversely seen in Rakhine State as being too sympathetic to the Ro-hingya cause.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party is also widely distrusted but won some seats there in 2010, largely by rallying Muslim voters to its side.

Most of the white-card holders in Rakhine State are stateless Muslims who identify as Rohingya, but are officially referred to by the government as Bengali. When it announced the cancellation of the white cards, the government also ordered that all temporary ID holders in the country should hand in their documents by May 31 to be eligible to apply for citizenship if they fulfil the legal criteria. The government had said there were 666,831 white cards issued in the state.

One former white-card holder in a camp in Sittwe for Muslims driven from their homes in inter-communal violence in 2012 said he did not believe his name would be on the voter list.

“As the Constitutional Tribunal had decided that granting white-card holders a voting right was unconstitutional, I don’t have much expectation over the voter lists,” the man, who requested anonymity, told The Myanmar Times yesterday.

Leaders of the Arakan National Party were active in parliament in ensuring the disenfranchisement of white-card holders in a direct rebuff to President U Thein Sein, who had proposed earlier in February that they should be granted voting rights in a planned constitutional referendum.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based NGO, said in April that stripping them of their eligibility “severs the last link that many Muslims in Rakhine State feel they have with political life, with potentially serious implications for medium-term stability in that region”.

Rakhine was one of several states and regions, including 21 townships in Yangon, to post electoral rolls on June 22 for a two-week period when the public can check their names and data are entered correctly. Corrected lists will be issued again in August for inspection.

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