Myanmar’s junta-appointed election commission pushes change to voting laws

Observers say the move would hand more power to the military, which already controls 25 percent of parliament.
Myanmar’s junta-appointed election commission pushes change to voting laws Voters queue up at a polling station in Rakhine state's Sittwe township, Nov. 8, 2020.

Myanmar’s junta-appointed Union Election Commission (UEC) has announced plans to change the country’s election rules from a “winner-takes-all” model to one of proportional representation (PR), drawing criticism from observers who say the military is manipulating the political system to retain power.

The UEC sent a letter to all political parties last week informing them that a meeting will be held in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon during the first week of November to discuss the electoral system ahead of the country’s next general ballot. In August, junta leader Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said that there will be no new elections in Myanmar until 2023 at the earliest, and a date has yet to be announced.

Under a system of proportional representation, winners are declared according to all votes cast, rather than a plurality or simple majority. According to Myanmar’s 2008 constitution, the military is already assured 25 percent of the seats in each legislature, and a PR system would likely give it even greater control over the country’s laws.

The announcement follows a meeting about the use of the PR system between the UEC and 51 political parties in the capital Naypyidaw on Feb. 28—only weeks after the military seized power from the country’s democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government in a coup. Most of the parties that attended the meeting were pro-military.

Repeated attempts by RFA’s Myanmar Service to contact the UEC for comment on plans for the new system went unanswered.

Speaking to RFA, Kyaw Htwe, a Pyithu Hluttaw member representing the NLD in Naypyidaw’s Zabu Thiri township, said the PR system does not reflects the aspirations of the people.

“According to their plan, the number of elected representatives in the elections will be reduced, and the military will have the upper hand by holding on to 25 percent of the vote without the consent of the people,” he said.

“They are scheming to form a government of their choice, hoping to include some representatives who will say yes to whatever they say. The main purpose is not to let the NLD get a chance to form a government in accordance with the people's will.”

Kyaw Htwe said that any process carried out by the military in violation of the 2008 constitution, which was drafted by the military itself, is illegal.

‘Get out of politics’

Nearly nine months after the military’s Feb. 1 coup, security forces have killed 1,199 civilians and arrested at least 7,032, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP)—mostly during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.

The junta says it unseated the NLD government because, they claimed, the party had engineered a landslide victory in Myanmar’s November 2020 election through widespread voter fraud. It has yet to present evidence of its claims and public unrest is at an all-time high.

Junta Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun noted that it was civilian politicians, not the military, who initially introduced the PR system in Myanmar.

“Currently, the UEC is working on a PR system. I think it will be adopted as there are supporters,” he told RFA.

“We are researching how to do it. It is not yet possible to say how it will be done. It will be carried out within the bounds of the 2008 Constitution—the PR system cannot be applied to everything. I think things will become clearer after we hold discussions.”

Asked about allegations that the military is trying to manipulate the system to gain more political influence, Zaw Min Tun refused to comment.

Sai Leik, vice-chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, told RFA that although the military had extended an invitation to next week’s meeting, his party would not attend.

“Regardless of whether it is the PR system or the winner-takes-all system, the military needs to get out of politics,” he said.

“We chose our candidates to contest the elections but the [military] automatically got 25 percent of the vote without running in the elections. That is an obstacle to democracy. If they want to go on like this, with an automatic 25 percent of seats, there won’t be much benefit for the people no matter what system is used.”

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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