Lower House Approves Fast-Tracking of By-Elections

By San Yamin Aung 17 December 2015

RANGOON — The Lower House of Parliament on Wednesday approved an amendment to Burma’s election laws that would mandate the holding of a by-election within six months of a seat in the country’s legislative chambers being vacated.

Khin San Hlaing, a Lower House lawmaker for the National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy that the amended bills state that Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC) must organize by-elections within six months of when a given parliamentary chamber’s speaker informs legislators of a seat opening.

She said that under current election laws, there is no timeframe provided for when vacant seats must be filled.

The lack of this by-election provision has meant that over the course of the current five-year parliamentary term, many constituents have gone extended periods without representation in Naypyidaw. An April 2012 by-election saw the NLD win 43 of 44 contested seats, but a second by-election for more than 30 seats scheduled for 2014 was scrapped, with the UEC saying there was not enough time to organize that poll ahead of this year’s Nov. 8 general election.

“But now, the commission will arrange to substitute if any lawmaker is vacant for any reason. So it is good. If not, if we wait to hold [by-elections] nationwide, the process will be more complicated,” she said.

The bills will be sent to the Upper House for approval.

“It is good for the constituents too—if their representatives quit or are disqualified for any reason or become a cabinet member, the substituted representatives can work for them,” Khin San Hlaing added.

The 2012 by-election was called after many members elected to office in Burma’s discredited 2010 general election were subsequently appointed to cabinet positions in the victorious Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) government, requiring them to vacate their seats.

If the mandatory fast-tracking of by-elections is approved by Parliament’s upper chamber and the NLD follows a similar course in selecting several cabinet members from the ranks of its recently elected MPs, Burma could see another large by-election by year’s end.

The NLD dominated last month’s nationwide poll, winning nearly 80 percent of elected seats and ensuring that it will form the next government in early 2016.

At present, the country’s three election laws—covering the Upper House, Lower House and regional legislatures—state simply: “If there is a vacancy for Hluttaw [Parliament] representative due to any reason in the Parliament, it shall be substituted by election in accord with the law.”