Htay Oo takes heat for DVB interview

The Union parliament’s decision to allow white card holders to vote in the referendum on constitutional amendment is the right decision, said Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) vice chairperson Htay Oo in an exclusive interview with Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) on Tuesday.

“It is a decision made by the Union parliament. The parliament has to obey the law. The laws say white card holders have the right to vote. Each successive government has done this. The parliament did not deny the white card holders are not citizens. In fact, they have not been granted citizenship yet for several reasons. They face difficulties obtaining national registration cards (NRC). It is not that they do not deserve to become citizens. The government issued white cards in some remote areas where its administrative power cannot reach. I think the parliament did the right thing,” said Htay Oo.

“They can [eventually] be granted citizenship as white cards were granted to those who have many chances to become citizens,” Htay Oo replied to a question about whether white card holders will become citizens in one day.

The Union parliament voted to grant voting rights to white card holders in the national referendum on February 2 in accordance with a directive from President Thein Sein.

In response to Htay Oo’s interview, Eleven Media Group’s CEO Dr Than Htut Aung said, “Htay Oo was a minister in the era of the former military regime, and he has been a senior party official of the ruling USDP for over a decade. I think he has the most responsibility in USDP party in issuing temporary citizenship cards and granting voting rights to non-citizens. He will have to take responsibility for what he said about the decisions to grant voting rights to non-citizens. I felt that his remarks are irresponsible.”

“The government is checking white card holders in Rakhine State to grant them voting rights. If the government wants to do this so the ruling party wins the next election, it will be very dangerous for the country and its citizens. The parliament should reconsider,” said Arakan National Party central executive committee member Aye Thar Aung.

“Some white card holders come from Upper Myanmar. If they can apply for NRCs at their native towns, they will surely get them. But there are also people who have illegally entered Myanmar from neighbouring countries. At that time, the authorities took bribes to issue them NRC cards or they issued the cards in exchange for votes. The authorities need to double investigate the NRC holders in South Dagon and Thingangyun townships who bribed authorities to get their cards,” said Aye Thar Aung.

“According to the1982 citizenship law, people who want to be citizens must apply for citizenship in accordance with rules and regulations. They cannot automatically become citizens. Foreign registration card (FRC) holders and people who have temporary citizenship (white) cards are different. White card holders can become citizens. On the back of white cards, it says: “The white card shall not be a registration card to designate a citizen.” So we cannot say the white card holders will be citizens. It just allows them to stay,” he continued.

Similarly, MP Dr Nyo Nyo Thin from Bahan No 2 Constituency said giving voting rights to white card holders is a dishonest action, and the leaders of the country should respect the rule of law.

“If they are granted citizenship status, then they can have it. But they are not citizens by law. What [Htay Oo] said shows he doesn’t understand the meaning of rule of law. Only citizens have voting rights,” she said.

“Granting white card holders voting rights is beyond the limit, parliament must reconsider it,” said Ye Aung from the Former Political Prisoners Group.

“The difference between pink and white cards has not been clarified yet, but more important than that is the fact that ethnic minorities haven’t had their NRCs granted to them,” said Pa-O National Liberation Organization chairperson Khun Myint Tun.

“The decision of the parliament detracts from Myanmar’s citizenship rights and is an insult to legislative power and the citizens’ fate and their choices. The government has a responsibility to issue NRCs to white card holders who are ethnic minorities, but they continue to hold white cards for other reasons. Parliament should reconsider its decision to grant voting rights to white card holders,” said the National Democratic Front (NDF) in an announcement yesterday.