Just over a week since Burma’s Union Parliament passed a law granting temporary identity card holders the right to vote in a constitutional referendum slated for later this year, the president’s office issued a statement revoking those rights on Wednesday.
According to the statement, temporary identity cards, popularly known as white cards, will expire on March 31. White card holders must return the expired documents no later than May 31, the statement read.
President’s Office Director Zaw Htay said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that “according to the announcement, the white cards holders’ right to vote in the constitutional [referendum] is automatically revoked.”
The move came only hours after hundreds of people, including Buddhist monks, gathered in Rangoon to protest the passage of a law on Feb. 2 that would have allowed all citizens, foreign registration card holders and white card holders over the age of 18, to vote in the national referendum.
The majority of white card holders are Rohingya Muslims, residing in Burma’s Arakan State, who were mostly stripped of citizenship after the passage of a 1982 law. Many were awarded white cards more than two decades ago.
Abu Tahay, a Rohingya leader and chair of the Union Nationals Development Party—a political organization not recognized by Naypyidaw—criticized the government’s U-turn.
“It is clear that the announcement was made due to some kind of pressure,” he told The Irrawaddy. Any termination of the cards must be executed in accordance with a bylaw of the Residents of Burma Registration Act , he added.
Ba Shein, a lower house MP from the Arakan National Party who voted against the parliament’s Feb. 2 decision, said the order from the president’s office was insufficient, as it could only be implemented through new or amended legislation.
“It seems the order was rushed in order to halt the current protests,” he told The Irrawaddy.
The president’s office statement appeared to acknowledge public opposition and pledged to form a commission, comprised of “experts and appropriate persons, to review those [relevant] laws, bylaws and related issues and give their suggestions.”
Prominent lawyer Robert San Aung described the plan as “just a waste of taxpayer’s money.” He said that MPs were forced to approve the law granting voting rights to white card holders, knowing that it was against the Constitution.
In December, President Thein Sein sent the constitutional referendum bill back to Parliament, recommending that white card holders should be granted the right to vote due to the fact that they were allowed to do so during the referendum to approve the Constitution in May 2008.
“Now the white cards have been revoked, these card-holders become stateless persons again, as there is only a plan to form a review committee,” Robert San Aung said.