Myanmar: Nationalist Buddhists protest new referendum law

YANGON - Hundreds of nationalist Buddhists took to the streets of Yangon on Wednesday to protest a government decision that could allow Rohingya Muslims to vote in a constitutional referendum.

The Arakan Youth Organisation and the Myanmar National Network (MNN) staged the demonstration to object to a new referendum law which will enfranchise around 1.5 million people with temporary citizenship.

Rohingya make up two thirds of that group, the government says, with the rest including ethnically Indian and Chinese people born in Myanmar. 

They are known as white cardholders because of the color of their identification cards.

Myanmar's Eleven news reported that the protesters had marched from the Bronze Pagoda near the center of Myanmar's biggest city to a post erected specifically for people to express their grievances to the government.

“Allowing white card holders to vote is like grabbing the rights of ethnic minorities and citizens. We reviewed that the Union parliament’s decision to allow white card holders to vote, and we found it to be a dishonest act,” the Network's Naung Taw Lay told Eleven.

Politicians, monks and ordinary citizens have said that they will also hold a mass protest in Sittwe, the capital of western Rakhine state Feb. 15.

Rakhine is the home of Myanmar’s roughly one million Rohingya. The majority are stateless and all are considered by ultra-nationalists to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. 

But they have been allowed to vote before, most recently in a widely discredited election in 2010.

Since then, however, nationalist fervor stoked by extremist Buddhist monks has been rising as the country undergoes democratic reforms following decades of direct military rule.

Ashin Wirathu, a prominent nationalist monk known for preaching that Muslims will overrun Myanmar because they “breed quickly,” condemned the new law in a statement earlier this month.

He said white cardholders are “harming ethnic interests” and threatened “retribution” if voting rights were again granted to them for the general election.

Around 280 have died in sporadic anti-Muslim rioting that has also displaced tens of thousands since 2012.

Most of the casualties have been Rohingya.

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency