RANGOON — Burma’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will likely support the adoption of a proportional representation (PR) system in the 2015 election, a party leader says.
Aung Thaung, a USDP lawmaker with close ties to President Thein Sein, told The Irrawaddy that his party, which holds the majority of seats in Parliament, would “probably” back the PR system to prevent the predominance of another big party.
“Big parties will become democratic dictators,” said the lawmaker, one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen and a former industry minister under the previous military regime. “They can monopolize everything. That is why we want a PR system. I presume the USDP will probably support it.”
The USDP’s main competition in the next election, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which is led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has publicly opposed the PR system, which would likely hurt its success at the polls.
“The main point is to terminate the possibility of emerging predominance of certain big parties,” Aung Thaung said. “The disadvantage of FPTP is that it favors the big parties and the disappearance of small parties. The disappearance of small parties means they don’t have a chance to take part in politics anymore.”
His statement comes after Burma’s Union Election Commission last week announced that it urged Parliament to discuss the possibility of replacing the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system with the PR system, which allows parties to win seats in the legislature based on the percentage of votes they earn nationwide.
Aung Thaung rejected criticism that the public is not yet ready for the PR system.
“The PR system is new to the public, so we have to explain it to them,” he said. “There are also three different types of PR systems. Which type will we use? We need to try to make the public vote for it. It’s said that the PR system has been used in some democracies since 1800.”
He said the gains from a PR system would outweigh the potential shortcomings, such as the possibility of a factionalized Parliament.
“The PR system has weaknesses,” he said. “Problems may arise, like frequent arguments in Parliament, the breakdown of governance, and frequent elections. No party can dominate with different parties existing in Parliament, which leads to the formation of alliances between parties in order to form a government.”
Suu Kyi’s NLD supports the current FPTP system, whereby an election is won by the candidate with the most votes. An FPTP system would likely lead to a contest between the NLD and the USDP for the 75 percent of Parliament seats available in the next election.
NLD lawmaker Zaw Myint Maung, said the PR system was unacceptable and the very act of promoting it was an attempt to attack the NLD politically.
“The main intention is to weaken the strong parties, including the NLD,” he said. “The NLD had a landslide victory in 1990, and again in the by-election. Bluntly speaking, it [the PR system] is a punch to the NLD.”
He said Burma’s democracy was still too new to handle the PR system, which is more complicated to implement than the FPTP system and less likely to offer fast, decisive voting outcomes.
“We cannot agree to a PR system, according to the present situation,” he said. “We are going to think about it as the country matures democratically.”
Lawmakers say the Union Election Commission’s proposal to adopt the PR system will likely be discussed, concluded and confirmed after the next Parliament session on Tuesday.
The electoral commission submitted the proposal to Parliament last month at the recommendation of a 10-member democratic alliance, including the Chin National Party, the Democratic Party (Burma), the Democracy and Peace Party, the Union Democracy Party, the Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party, the All Mon Regions Democracy Party, the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, the National Democratic Front, and the Unity and Peace Party.
A PR system could allow some of Burma’s 135 officially recognized ethnic minorities to achieve more representation, but not all ethnic minority parties support it.
At a meeting of 15 ethnic minority parties earlier this month in east Burma’s Shan State, some party leaders said they could not agree to a PR system, which they said could lead to a breakdown in national government.
“I don’t agree to it at all,” said Khun Tun Oo, a leader of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy. “It will be difficult for minorities. We still need to learn a lot. How will the farmers and country folk, who make up 70 percent of the country’s population, understand the PR system?”