Myanmar’s Union Parliament in a close vote on Thursday suspended debate on a bill that would allow for the removal of lawmakers facing recall petitions from at least one percent of their constituents, and which could have forced speaker of the lower house Shwe Mann from his position.
Shwe Mann, once seen as a leading candidate for president in Nov. 8 general elections, had already been removed from another post as chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in a bid by President Thein Sein to consolidate his own political power.
The move to suspend the bill passed narrowly with a vote of 264 members in favor, 235 opposed, and 12 abstentions, with discussion of the controversial measure not expected to be taken up again until a new parliament is seated following the November elections.
Some lawmakers on Thursday questioned the value and timing of the proposed legislation, saying that enactment at a date so close to scheduled elections would distract and confuse voters.
“The campaign period leading to the election is now very close, and we don’t have time to take action on individual members of parliament [MPs] if their constituents want to recall them,” Win Oo of the ruling USDP said. “We need to take this process step by step.”
“We should take the time we need to discuss this bill in greater depth,” Win Myint of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) agreed, while voicing concern at the low threshold of complaints required for constituents to remove an MP from his position.
“We should have a ‘Right to Recall’ bill, but if MPs lose their seats because only one percent of their constituents want to recall them, democracy’s essence will disappear,” he said.
A necessary measure?
Other lawmakers meanwhile defended the bill as a needed corrective to political misbehavior, calling the now-suspended measure a “fair way” to achieve checks and balances in the newly democratizing country’s political process.
“People have the right to recall candidates if they think these MPs are weak or not doing their duty,” MP Brigadier General Tint San said. “This is a fair way to achieve checks and balances.”
“This bill will rein in some MPs who have ignored the interests of the people in their constituencies,” agreed USDP parliamentarian Hla Swe.
“I’d like to say that the MPs who think this bill shouldn’t be passed are the ones who don’t dare to face the people’s test,” he added.
Thursday’s narrow vote may be seen as a measure of continued support in parliament for lower house speaker Shwe Mann, who faces a recall petition from his own constituency after supporting a motion opposing the military’s veto power over proposed constitutional amendments.
Reported by Win Naung Toe and Win Ko Ko Lat for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.