President Seeks Expanded UEC to Add Ethnic Voices

By San Yamin Aung 31 March 2015

RANGOON — President Thein Sein has sent a letter to Parliament requesting that lawmakers appoint eight new ethnic minority members to the Union Election Commission (UEC), which will oversee Burma’s much-anticipated national elections in November.

Khin Maung Swe, chairman of the National Democratic Force (NDF) party, told The Irrawaddy that the president indicated in the letter sent Monday that he wanted to double the size of the UEC to 16 members, from its current eight-person roster.

“The president directly sent the names of eight ethnic members who he wants to appoint to the current UEC and lawmakers who oppose [the proposed candidates] are requested to submit their [alternative] names by April 2,” he said.

“It is good for ethnic political parties, generally, to add eight ethnic members to the commission. But we don’t know about their backgrounds: where they are from, what they did and whether they are connected with any party,” he said.

The eight ethnic nominees, according to the NDF leader, are N Zaw Naw, Kham Win, Ba Hlaing, Har Kee, Maung Maung Kyi, Nong Taung, Tun Thein and San Win. Among the prospective new UEC members are voices from some of Burma’s largest ethnic minority groups, including Shan, Kachin and Karen representatives.

If approved by Parliament, the presidentially initiated expansion of the UEC would bring a reform of the elections body that has been long-sought by ethnic political parties. They have argued that the absence of minority voices on the commission might imperil prospects for free and fair elections later this year, in a country with a population thought to be about 40 percent comprised of more than 100 ethnic minority groups.

Zo Zam, the chairman of the Chin National Party (CNP), said his party had been appealing to both the president and the UEC to add ethnic minority representatives to a UEC that, in its current form, is dominated by members of Burma’s majority ethnic Bamar.

“There are over 40 ethnic political parties in our country and if the UEC—which will supervise the countrywide elections—doesn’t include ethnic members, I don’t think it can fully ensure that it will hold fair elections. So, I have made the demand,” he said.

Zo Zam said he welcomed the president’s proposal to appoint members of ethnic minorities to the UEC but would wait and see whether the new members would serve as fair arbiters of the electoral process.

Among the current UEC members, five members were also included in the commission’s previous iteration. That body organized Burma’s last general elections in 2010, which were widely criticized amid widespread reports of voting irregularities and fraudulent balloting.

Two of the newly nominated ethnic UEC members, N Zaw Naw and Saw Ba Hlaing, served on the former UEC. That body was comprised of 17 members including chairman Thein Soe, who was replaced by current elections chief Tin Aye in 2011.

Additional reporting by The Irrawaddy’s Wei Yan Aung.