RVISION April 1, 2016

The European Union’s election monitoring team has urged the new government to revise citizenship laws it said perpetuate racial discrimination and the suffering of ethnic minorities.

Mission chief Alexander Graf Lambsdorff said during a conference yesterday that the legal framework needs an urgent retooling to ensure fairer future elections.

“We believe the right to vote should be exercised by as many people as are entitled to it reasonably and that means that the citizenship criteria should be applied in a non-arbitrary and not discriminatory manner,” he said.

The EU election team presented its final report on the 2015 election process in Yangon yesterday. It included several recommendations for the newly installed National League for Democracy government.

The report was particularly critical over temporary citizen registration that allotted “white cards” to over 760,000 people, mostly Muslim Rohingya in Arakan (Rakhine) State whom are persecuted in their own land.

Although Rohingya voters were courted by the Union Solidarity and Development Party in the 2010 election, in February last year the government declared the white cards invalid from March 31 under pressure from Buddhist nationalists. Parliament also amended electoral laws to remove voting rights for white card holders and the Constitutional Tribunal also ruled that temporary ID holders could not vote. As a result, almost 1 million holders of white cards were disenfranchised.

In addition to stripping the white-card holders of their right to vote, Muslim candidates were also culled from the election list. Just 11 were eventually reinstated for minor parties, while the larger parties decided not to field a single Muslim. As a result, no Muslims sit in parliament or have been appointed to the new cabinet.

The right to vote should be enjoyed by those reasonably entitled to do so, including communities previously entitled to vote, the chief observer said. He added that “the right to stand for election needs to be reasonable and inclusive. A 10-year residency obligation for parliamentary candidates, for example, is too strict.”

“Moving forward, several laws and regulations can be improved which would also help to make the process more transparent and easier to understand for the citizens,” he said at the conference.

Sai Ye Kyaw Swa Myint, executive director of People’s Alliance for Credible Elections, said the all the political parties accepted that the process was fair and competitive, but that didn’t mean there were not areas for improvement. The newly formed Union Election Commission should take note of the field-based recommendations, he added.

Note: Changes have been made, MYANMAR TIMES is not responsible for these.