Next Rangoon Election to Bar 98.5% of Voters

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 29 August 2014

RANGOON — Only 1.5 percent of Rangoon’s voting-age population will be allowed to vote in the city’s next elections, according to new rules and regulations approved by the divisional parliament on Friday.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to approve the restrictions on voter participation in elections for the next deputy mayor and other senior officials in the municipal administration, the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC).

The election rules and regulations were drafted by the YCDC and have already been approved by the divisional government. They will go into effect at the end of October—90 days after they were first shown to the divisional parliament. Until then, they may be vetoed by the Union Parliament in Naypyidaw, if lawmakers at the national level oppose them.

Nyo Nyo Thin, a Rangoon divisional lawmaker representing a constituency in Bahan Township, was a lone voice speaking out against the new rules and regulations on Friday. She described them as overly restrictive and undemocratic.

“The government announced last year that the YCDC would need to hold elections,” she said. In the past, municipal officials were appointed by the former military regime.

“So the YCDC drew up a law, but in terms of the rules and regulations, not everyone above the age of 18 can vote. Only three out of 200 people will be allowed to vote, so the new committee will not represent the people,” she said. “They [YCDC] said that if they were to hold a [full] election, it would cost 1.5 billion kyats [US$1.5 million]. They want to cut costs by reducing the number of voters.”

Employees of government departments and members of the police force will also be ineligible to vote, as will former government employees who were dismissed and anyone with a criminal record or a background of corruption.

An election date has not been set, and the mayoral post will not be on the ballot. The mayor is appointed by the president.

An eight-member election commission will select which of the city’s 5 million or so voting-age people will head to the polls. Half the commission members will come from the YCDC, and half will come from township and district government offices.

“They will definitely choose people who already like them,” Nyo Nyo Thin said.

Her concerns were apparently not shared by others in the legislature, who overwhelmingly voted in favor of the new rules.

Before the vote, Zaw Aye Maung, the ethnic Arakanese affairs minister in Rangoon Division, told lawmakers that the divisional government decided to approve the rules because they were in accordance with old regulations of the 1990 municipal law, which established the YCDC. “There’s no need to cancel the new rules and regulations,” he told The Irrawaddy.