Myanmar Political Parties Reject Regime’s Proportional Representation System

By The Irrawaddy 9 November 2021

Myanmar political parties that won seats in the 2020 general election have rejected the proportional representation (PR) system proposed by the country’s military regime, which seized power in a February 1 coup.

Less than a month after the coup, the military-appointed Union Election Commission (UEC) asked political parties for input on ways to replace the First Past the Post System with the PR system, citing the calls for a switch to PR at an earlier meeting with 51 political parties. The meeting was boycotted by major parties including the National League for Democracy (NLD), which won over 83 per cent of the votes in the 2020 general election.

Since the junta has annulled the 2020 election results, while the UEC has continued discussions on a switch to PR, political parties that won seats in 2020 have repeated their opposition to switching to a PR system.

The UEC held discussions on the PR system with over 50 political parties, including the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), at the Yangon regional government office on November 5 and 6. Smaller parties and pro-military parties were present at the meeting which was boycotted by the NLD and the other major parties.

The meeting was the third in a series of discussions between political parties and the UEC on a PR system that would suit Myanmar, according to junta-controlled newspapers.

The military is attempting to further complicate the country’s political situation by switching to a PR system, said U Bo Bo Oo, an NLD lawmaker who was elected to the Yangon Parliament in the 2020 election.

The junta has said that the 2008 Constitution is still in effect. So if the PR system is to be introduced under the current constitution, it is legally necessary to convene parliament, said U Bo Bo Oo.

The Irrawaddy’s calls to the USDP, which won the second-highest number of seats after the NLD in the 2020 election, went unanswered.

The UEC and the USDP disagree only on how parliamentary constituencies are to be divided under a PR system, according to junta-controlled newspapers.

Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) chairman Sai Nyunt Lwin said his party is opposed to a PR system. The SNLD is a major party based in Shan State in eastern Myanmar. In the 2020 poll, it won 15 seats in the Union Parliament and 27 seats in the Shan State Parliament.

Myanmar’s military holds 25 per cent of the seats in national and regional legislatures under the 2008 Constitution, meaning that only 75 per cent of seats in the country’s parliaments are elected. Political analysts say that democratic parties will see their power diluted under a PR system, as around 30 political parties out of some 90 political parties in Myanmar are believed to be allies of the military.

“As long as this rule exists, only the parties that go along with the military can form the government. The military has 25 per cent of seats and its allied parties need only to win another 26 per cent of seats to form the government. On the other hand, all the other parties need to win 51 per cent of seats to form the government.  So this is not fair,” said Sai Nyunt Lwin.

The UEC has apparently determined to switch to PR whether political parties like it or not, added Sai Nyunt Lwin.

The Arakan National Party (ANP), which won the fourth-highest number of votes in the 2020 election, said it agreed in principle with the switch to PR, but also expressed concerns that the system will be exploited by an individual party or institution for their own interests.

ANP policy leadership committee member U Tun Aung Kyaw said, “We accept in principle the study [on PR system]. We accept it if it is done with good intentions and in the interest of the entire country and all national peoples. But it is meaningless if it is done for the self-interests of an individual party or institution.”

The Ta’ang National Party (TNP), which won the fifth-highest number of seats in the 2020 poll, said the PR system could confuse voters.

“Ethnic people in our area are not even familiar with the current electoral system. A PR system will be more complicated, and will need a lot of voter education and so on. It is not an easy task to make the switch immediately,” said TNP secretary Mai Ohm Khaing.

One election monitor who requested anonymity said that just switching to PR will not solve the problems in Myanmar.

“The problem won’t be solved. An election is just one part of the political process. Only when there is political agreement and trust between existing political leaders and stakeholders will the electoral system be helpful in solving political problems,” he said.

For Myanmar to enjoy democracy it is important that no political stakeholder is excluded from the electoral process, he added, referring to the junta’s attempt to get rid of the NLD.

Coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has said that elections will be held in 2023 if stability in the country can be restored. But many believe that tensions between the junta and the Myanmar people have reached a point of no return.

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