NLD Expels 20,000 White Card Holders From Party

By Yen Saning 17 March 2015

RANGOON — The National League for Democracy (NLD) has expelled more than 20,000 temporary identification card holders from the party’s membership, purging noncitizens from its ranks in compliance with a legislative mandate.

The expulsion of the so-called “white card holders”—described as such because their temporary identity document is white—was prompted by a change to legislation dictating the operational bounds of Burma’s political parties and follows a ruling by President Thein Sein stripping the group of suffrage last month.

The amendments to the law restrict party membership to holders of full citizenship in Burma, precluding associate citizens, naturalized citizens and white card holders.

“Since the NLD has more members, the party has asked for an extension of the deadline to submit the [updated] list. Actually, the list was supposed to be submitted [to the Union Election Commission] by the end of January,” Nan Khin Htwe Myint, an NLD Central Executive Committee member, told The Irrawaddy.

Hla Maung Cho, deputy director of the Union Election Commission (UEC), said many of Burma’s registered political parties had already submitted similar lists, which the UEC is checking against previous membership rosters. The UEC official said he could not disclose how many people in total were expunged from the memberships of the approximately 70 registered political parties in Burma.

“Some parties submitted that they do not have white card holders on their membership lists. We will verify that,” he said.

Nan Khin Htwe Myint said the NLD had been granted a deadline extension but was required to submit its updated list this month. She added that parties were expected to vet their own rosters, with the UEC serving in an overseeing role.

Parties found noncompliant risk potential deregistration by the UEC.

Parliament voted in September to amend Article 4(a) and Article 10(a) of the Political Parties Registration Law, which cover who is eligible to found and join a party, respectively. The changes stripped both provisions of previous wording that allowed any “[full] citizen, associate citizen and naturalized citizen or white card holders” to participate in party politics, restricting eligibility to full citizens only.

The disenfranchisement of white card holders has included revoking their right to vote in a constitutional referendum slated for May, and a general election due late this year, because of a presidential ruling last month that will see the cards expire on March 31. In addition to the loss of suffrage, current white card holders will likely see their ability to travel around the country curbed due to a lack of identity document.

The government has said white card holders will have the opportunity to obtain a level of citizenship by undergoing the national verification process, an ill-articulated procedure that involves applicants proving that their ancestry was born in the country.

Many of the country’s white card holders are Rohingya Muslims, a persecuted minority largely based in western Arakan State.

Burma’s Immigration Minister Khin Yi told The Irrawaddy last month that there were an estimated 700,000-800,000 white card holders countrywide.