Ethnic MPs Skip Lower House Vote on PR System

By Nyein Nyein 24 July 2014

About 20 ethnic party lawmakers skipped a Lower House session to protest against further discussions on a proposal to introduce a proportional representation (PR) electoral system in Burma.

During the session, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) MPs, military lawmakers and several small parties cast 312 votes in favor of further discussions on a proposal to switch from the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system to a PR system.

Several ethnic lawmakers and members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) cast a total of 42 votes against further discussions.

Nang Wah Nu, a lawmaker from the Shan Nationalities Development Party (SNDP), said 20 MPs belonging to an alliance of ethnic parties declined to attend Thursday’s session. “We showed our stand as the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation,” she said.

Since June, the opposition, comprising the NLD and some 20 ethnic parties, has been trying to fight off attempts by the USDP and a small party, the National Democratic Force, to change the electoral system.

Under a PR system, the number of seats won by each party is proportionate to the number of votes received. Under the current FPTP system, the winning lawmaker in each constituency takes a seat in Parliament.

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. The NLD opposes the change because they said the Burmese public would not understand that they could no longer vote directly for a representative and that the system would thus complicate the 2015 elections.

Last month, a majority of lawmakers in the Upper House of Parliament voted to study a possible switch from the FPTP system, which benefits dominant parties, to a PR system, which tends to benefit smaller parties. An Upper House committee has begun drafting a proposal for a PR system that would suit Burma.

Ba Shein, a lawmaker of the Arakan National Party, said he opposed the PR system but attended the Lower House session in order to raise his objections, adding, “We already knew that we will lose when the votes are casted.”

Ba Shein said he thinks that the proposal should not be considered as it would violate Constitution Article 369 (a), which stipulates that citizens should have the right to directly vote for their representative.

Sandar Min, a NLD Lower House MP, said the opposition parties would continue to raise their objections over the adoption of PR system during further parliamentary discussions. “We object the PR system as it damages the ethnics’ unity,” she said, offering another explanation as to why Suu Kyi’s party is against electoral system change.

Nang Wah Nu, of the SNDP, said USDP chairman and Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann had promised to look into the concerns of the ethnic parties.

“We have talked to the speaker [Shwe Mann] when we met with him. He promised that any PR system adopted would be tailored to be fair for ethnic parties. But we will know for sure only when the bill on the PR system comes out,” she said.