Myanmar's Parliament Told to Make Quick Decision on Electoral System

2013-10-11
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Election Commission Chairman Tin Aye addresses leaders of various political parties at a meeting in Yangon, Oct. 11, 2013.
Election Commission Chairman Tin Aye addresses leaders of various political parties at a meeting in Yangon, Oct. 11, 2013.
AFP

The head of Myanmar's election body asked parliament Friday to decide by the end of the year whether the country's electoral system should be changed to one of proportional representation as proposed by some groups, saying an early decision would enable authorities to prepare ahead of the 2015 polls.

Election Commission Chairman Tin Aye said basic rules for the upcoming general elections would be written by December, assuring that the polls would be "free and fair" unlike the 2010 elections, which were held under military rule and were criticized by various groups.

“I don’t want to have the bitter experience like that of the 2010 elections. I will make my commission members skillful and will educate the people ahead of the 2015 elections,” he said at a meeting with leaders of 36 political parties in Myanmar's commercial capital Yangon.

But Tin Aye prodded parliament to make a decision quickly on whether the country should stick to the current "first-past-the-post” electoral system, under which candidates who receive the highest number of votes are elected, or replace it with the proportional representation system, in which the number of seats won by a party is proportional to the number of votes received.

“I can’t make a decision on the election system," he said, responding to a question at the meeting from Than Than Nu, the secretary of the Democratic Party (Myanmar), on the proportionate representation system. "The parliament or the people have to decide on it."

Proposal to change

Some political parties want a proportional voting system, arguing that this would allow for a fairer representation of smaller ethnic parties. But the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which currently holds a majority in both upper and lower houses, opposes such a move, which could challenge their majority hold on the legislature.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy is also against any changes to the electoral system before the next general elections, reports have said.

A proposal to change to the proportional system was submitted for discussion in parliament by the Election Commission after an alliance of minor opposition parties began lobbying the commission and President Thein Sein last year to introduce a form of proportional representation.

Parliament referred the matter to a newly formed constitutional review committee on July 1, reports said.

Getting ready

"If we want to use the proportional representation system in the 2015 election, parliament should decide whether it will allow it or not in 2013," Tin Aye said.

"If allowed, I will launch a voter education process in 2014 to get ready for the 2015 election."

But he warned that any parliament decision on the issue after 2013 would be difficult to implement.

"If parliament tells me to use the proportional representation system for new elections after 2013, it would be difficult for me [to get ready for the 2015 elections]," he said. "Parliament hasn’t responded to me at all about this."

Among the parties seeking the new system is the National Unity Party (NUP), which won 35 percent of votes in the last free and fair  election in 1990 but ended up winning only 10 seats in parliament, or little more than two percent of the total, reports said.

Senior party member Khin Soe told The Irrawaddy journal, “If we have a proportional representation system, then we can have a more democratic system, as we will have a multiparty system in parliament.”

Reported by Zin Mar Win for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

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