RANGOON — Burma’s biggest opposition party opposes a change to a proportional representation (PR) electoral system because it would confuse voters, a party member says.
Nyan Win, spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD), says that despite voter education efforts, most people in Burma did not understand the current electoral system, known as a first-past-the-post (FPTP) system, during the previous election. A change now would only complicate matters in the 2015 election, he said.
“The public will not be pleased if they cannot give their vote to the candidate of their choice because they do not understand the new system,” he told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “We don’t accept it.”
Last month, a majority of lawmakers in the Upper House of Parliament voted to switch from the FPTP system, which benefits dominant parties, to a PR system, which tends to benefit smaller parties. Lawmakers from the military, the NLD and ethnic minority parties voted against the change.
Under a PR system, the number of seats won by each party is proportionate to the number of votes received. Under the FPTP system, the winning lawmaker in each constituency takes a seat in Parliament.
The Lower House has not yet voted on whether to switch to the PR system. Last week, Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann from the USDP said at a press conference that he believed the PR system should be adopted if it would benefit the country.
The NLD and its alliance ethnic parties—including the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, the Arakan League for Democracy, the Mon National Party, the Zomi Congress for Democracy, the Shan State Kokant Democratic Party and the National Democracy party—released a statement on July 5 calling on lawmakers not to change the electoral system.
“The PR system will not benefit Burma’s transition and its ethnic people, but will benefit only some parties,” they said.
Ethnic parties worry they will not fare well under a PR system. Under the current system, ethnic parties can count on winning seats in constituencies of ethnic minority states.
“[Voters] from townships in the states want a representative who will represent them,” said Sai Nyunt Lwin, a spokesman for the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, adding that with a change to the PR system, “voters will no longer know who they can rely on.”
The Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF), an alliance of 20 ethnic parties, has also opposed a change to PR. The alliance was planning to protest against PR but decided to hold off on demonstrations after party members met recently with Shwe Mann, who they say promised that any PR system adopted would be tailored to be fair for ethnic parties.