As Election Nears, Parliament to Take Up Impeachment Bill

By Zarni Mann & Lawi Weng 19 August 2015

NAYPYIDAW / RANGOON — Burma’s Union Parliament on Thursday will discuss legislation on impeachment proceedings for sitting lawmakers, an increasingly contentious proposition that could see sparks fly this week against the backdrop of a ruling party power struggle and looming nationwide elections.

The proposed bill would potentially permit the recall of parliamentarians who have lost favor with just 1 percent of their constituents.

Differences of opinion on the “right to recall” legislation were laid bare on Tuesday night when representatives from 19 political parties in Parliament met with its Joint Bill Committee to discuss the matter.

Two issues in particular arose as sticking points between two factions, with one side supporting a higher recall threshold than 1 percent and a thorough examination of the proposed legislation before it is put to a vote, while a minority of parties urged swift passage of the bill and a threshold as low as 1 percent.

The 1 percent threshold is the constitutionally enshrined minimum number of votes required in a given constituency to initiate impeachment proceedings. If the threshold is reached, the matter goes before the Union Election Commission (UEC), which is tasked with investigating the complaint.

Targeted lawmakers have a right to defend themselves, and “if the Union Election Commission considers that the allegation is true and that the alleged person should not continue to serve as a Hluttaw [Parliament] representative any longer, the Union Election Commission shall proceed in accord with the law,” according to the Constitution’s Article 396(e).

The fate of the proposed legislation is arguably of greatest immediate concern to Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, who was ousted from the chairmanship of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) last week and could become any such law’s first casualty.

A petition purportedly containing the signatures of more than 1,700 constituents in Shwe Mann’s constituency of Zayarthiri was submitted to the UEC last month.

Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, the speaker said the recall bill would be discussed on Thursday.

Myat Nyar Na Soe, a lawmaker and member of Parliament’s Joint Bill Committee, delivered remarks preceding the speaker, debriefing lawmakers on what was discussed at Tuesday’s meeting between political parties and the Joint Bill Committee.

He put the number of political parties in favor of a measured approach and higher recall threshold at 13, while six parties were aligned in seeking speedy enactment of a law with a 1 percent threshold.

“The majority of political parties are of the opinion that one percent is too small a percentage,” MyatNyar Na Soe told lawmakers, reading from a prepared text summarizing the meeting’s outcomes.

The 13 political parties favored assigning a group of lawmakers to conduct an assessment of the legislation and report their findings to Parliament, according to Myat Nyar Na Soe, who said the lawmakers’ fear was that a hastily legislated recall bill could trigger political instability, negatively impact national reconciliation or “block the road to democracy,” among other concerns.

Aye Maung, chairman of the Arakan National Party and an Upper House lawmaker, said that while the right of citizens to initiate recall proceedings against their representatives should exist, attendant legislation should be put on hold until the Constitution could be amended.The ANP leader said the idea that 1 percent of voters could recall even lawmakers voted into office with commanding majorities was troublesome, particularly given the military’s existing 25 percent guarantee of parliamentary seats.

“The right to recall law is just to show a facade of democracy, giving the right to voters to dismiss their lawmakers when they do not like them. But what about those appointed [military] people in Parliament? … Therefore, we need to have amendments to the Constitution [first],” he said.

That was a view shared by the leader of Burma’s main opposition party, Aung San Suu Kyi, who on Tuesday called the recall threshold “ridiculous” in comments to reporters in Naypyidaw.

“For example, in Sagaing Township, our representative won by [earning] 93 percent [of votes] in 2012. Now, one percent has a right of recall? It’s ridiculous,” the National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman said.

The six parties holding the minority opinion were the USDP, Shan Nationalities Development Party (SNDP), National Unity Party (NUP), Chin National Democratic Party, Phlone-Sqaw Democratic Party and the New National Democracy Party, according to Myat Nyar Na Soe.

Hla Swe, a USDP lawmaker, said he had no qualms about the low recall threshold.

“I support one percent, so that lawmakers must work hard for their constituents. But, there are other lawmakers who said it should require 20 to 30 percent. Those lawmakers are just people who do not want to give up their seats.”