၂၀၁၅ ေရြးေကာက္ပြဲ Irrawaddy.org
Ethnic Issues

Burma’s Parliament Considers Banning Non-Citizens From Politics

Burma’s Parliament considers a constitutional amendment that would prohibit non-citizens, including minority Rohingya Muslims, from forming political parties, running for office or voting.


RANGOON — Burma’s Parliament is considering a constitutional amendment that would prohibit non-citizens from forming political parties, running for office or voting in elections—a move that would make it even more difficult for the Rohingya Muslim minority to participate in politics.

The amendment was proposed in a session of the Upper House on Monday by a lawmaker from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), Dr. Aye Maung. He represents a constituency in west Burma’s Arakan State, where the Rohingyas—who are largely denied citizenship by the 1982 Citizenship Law—have faced widespread discrimination and violence over the past year.

In addition to preventing the political participation of the Rohingya, the proposed amendment could pose a problem for political dissidents who lived abroad for decades under the former military regime and are now returning to Burma as the country transitions from nearly half a century of dictatorship.

Lawmakers have agreed to continue discussing the proposal.

“This amendment is needed because it is wrong to let some people who are not citizens get involved with political parties or vote,” Ba Shein, another RNDP lawmaker, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “Other countries have similar laws—those who are not citizens yet need to wait to be one, and then they have a chance to vote.”

The current 2008 Constitution, written by the former military regime, allows people to form political parties, run for office and vote in elections if they possess a temporary ID card.

Burma’s former military government handed some of the Rohingya Muslim population in northern Arakan State’s Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships temporary ID, so-called white cards, so they could vote in a constitutional referendum in 2008 as well as the national elections in 2010. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) hoped to gain the votes of the Muslim minority at the time.

The USDP secured power during the votes, which were widely seen as rigged by the regime, with allegations of widespread voter fraud and intimidation.

“What they [the government] did in the past was not right, according to the law,” Ba Shein said of the regime’s decision to seek Rohingya votes during the election.

Banyar Aung Moe, a lawmaker from the All Mon Region Democracy Party, said his party also supported the proposed amendment. “No-one can vote if they are not citizens,” he said. “They [the USDP] took a lot of votes in 2010. They would not have received such a large share of votes without doing this.”

Speaking in opposition to the proposal is Shwe Maung, a Muslim USDP lawmaker who represents Arakan State’s Maungdaw Township, where many Rohingyas live.

“If this amendment is approved, it will be a rights abuse,” he said. “Those who have temporary cards—or white cards—or who are considering applying for citizenship, they will be citizens in the future. They must have a chance to vote or participate in political parties.”

Burma’s state-run Myanma Alin newspaper reported on Tuesday that public opinion would be sought over the proposed amendment.

About 60 percent of the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in Arakan State received temporary national registration cards, also known as white cards, to vote in the 2010 elections.

The former regime’s Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which became the USDP before the elections, also forced millions of people to become party members to create an appearance of support. The Rohingyas were among those forced to join.

Rohingyas are regarded by Arakanese Buddhists and others in Burma as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and the government officially refers to them as stateless “Bengalis,” although many Rohingya families have lived in the country for generations.

For decades the Rohingya have faced widespread discrimination, but violence flared up last year in two bouts of clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in the state. About 150,000 people were displaced and about 200 killed in communal violence in June and October 2012. Most of the victims were Rohingya who have since been forced to stay in squalid camps for internally displaced persons. Government-imposed restrictions on their movement have prevented them from accessing health care and other basic services.

The persecution of the Rohingya has been seen as a stain on the reform efforts of Burma’s quasi-civilian government.