RANGOON — An Arakanese lawmaker warned the National League for Democracy (NLD) on Friday against pursuing amendments to several controversial laws that critics contend discriminate against religious and ethnic minorities in the country.
Khin Saw Wai, a Lower House lawmaker with the Arakan National Party (ANP) embarking on her second term in Parliament, said the party would oppose any moves to amend either the 1982 citizenship law or the package of four so-called “race and religion protection laws” which were passed by Parliament last year.
“Those laws are our life,” Khin Saw Wai told The Irrawaddy. “We will oppose [amendments] as much as we can.”
Burma’s widely criticized 1982 citizenship law states that only recognized ethnic nationalities and others that settled in the country before 1823 are automatically entitled to Burmese citizenship. The law effectively denies the Muslim Rohingya population that primarily resides in Arakan State from obtaining citizenship.
Khin Saw Wai contended that in the northern Arakan State townships of Buthidaung and Maungdaw, the Arakanese proportion of the population was only 3 percent. The ANP lawmaker said she was worried of “race annihilation” in the Muslim-majority townships.
The Arakan National Party was at the forefront of efforts to overturn the voting rights of temporary identification cardholders, a form of identification also knows as a “white card” that was held by hundreds of thousands of Rohingya. The government complied and revoked the cards last year.
The Rohingya population are theoretically able to register in an ongoing but ill-defined citizenship verification scheme. The process has in the past been criticized for requiring participants to register under the government’s preferred term for the group as “Bengali.”
Khin Saw Wai said most of the Muslim population had not taken part in the process.
“Of course, many people entered illegally across the Bangladesh border to Burma; how can they apply for citizenship? That is the reason why they don’t collaborate,” she said.
The ANP’s vice-chairman Khin Pyi Soe said if the NLD attempted to make changes to the citizenship law, the Arakanese party would convene a central committee meeting to formulate their response.
The NLD, which won almost 80 percent of contested seats in last year’s general election, has been reluctant to speak out on behalf of the persecuted Rohingya minority, over 100,000 of whom languish in makeshift camps after religious violence erupted in the western state in 2012.
The “race and religion” laws, also cited as inviolable by Khin Saw Wai, were sponsored by hardline Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha and fast-tracked through Parliament last year.
The package of four laws place new criminal sanctions on polygamy and adultery, add restrictions to religious conversions and interfaith marriage, and give the government new powers to implement birth control measures.
Rights groups and other observers claim the laws are aimed at Burma’s Muslim population, estimated to comprise about 5 percent of the country’s population.
The ANP officials were more supportive of the NLD’s purported push to suspend Article 59(f) of the Constitution which effectively bars the party’s chairwoman, Aung San Suu Kyi, from assuming the presidency.
Khin Pyi Soe and Khin Saw Wai said, personally, they both backed the move of which the NLD has publically said little.