Myanmar Wednesday said identity cards for people without full citizenship, including Muslim Rohingya, will expire within weeks, snatching away voting rights handed to them just a day earlier after nationalist protests at the move. The Rohingya along with hundreds of thousands of people in mainly ethnic minority border areas, who hold the documents ostensibly as part of a process of applying for citizenship, will see their ID cards expire at the end of March, according to a statement from the office of President Thein Sein late Wednesday. “Those who are holding temporary identity cards must give back the expired registration documents, the statement said, in a move that effectively overrides a clause giving them the right to vote in a constitutional referendum in a bill enacted with presidential approval on Tuesday. The dramatic about-face comes after dozens of protesters gathered in the commercial hub Rangoon Wednesday to call on the government not to allow people without full citizenship to vote in the proposed referendum.
The issue has ignited indignation among some Buddhists in restive Rakhine state, where around half a million Rohingya Muslims are estimated to hold white cards.
“If those given the right to vote don’t pay respect Myanmar’s flag, then we will have a failure of sovereignty,” said Nyi Nyi Maung, a Rakhine Buddhist who had joined monks and other protesters in Rangoon.
In a statement on Facebook, president’s office director Zaw Htay said as of the end of March, white cards would be “illegal”, meaning that holder’s voting rights were “automatically cancelled”.