RANGOON — At the Union Parliament in Naypyidaw on Wednesday, lawmakers in Burma’s young democracy received a friendly reminder that they are expected to refrain from voting on their colleagues’ behalf.
The instruction, issued by Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, comes in response to a photo circulated widely online since April that appears to show a military MP pushing the button to register an electronic vote for his absent neighboring lawmaker.
Tun Aung Kyaw, a parliamentarian for the Arakan National Party (ANP), told The Irrawaddy that the communiqué from the speaker was dated June 10, and also instructed parliamentarians not to take photos or videos during legislative sessions; seek permission to distribute any documents or books in or near the chamber; and to remove voting cards from their slots when lawmakers exit the chamber.
The cards, unique to each lawmaker, are used to track attendance and authenticate their votes.
“I think it is instructed to prevent misunderstanding. If we vote for a missing lawmaker, it will not be ethical voting and it shouldn’t be done, but it depends on the discipline of each lawmaker,” Tun Aung Kyaw said.
The notification follows a recent ban on media in the parliamentary chambers, which began on May 26 in the Union Parliament and was later extended to the Upper and Lower chambers.
Shwe Mann has said the decision to kick out the press was at the request of the Lower House military contingent, which was prompted by the April 10 publication of the photograph picturing a proxy vote being cast by a military lawmaker on behalf of his colleague.
Brig-Gen Tint San, a Lower House military MP, said in a letter to the speaker that “media ethics” had been breached by the weekly news journal that ran the photo on its front page.
Tint San said the military representative absent in the photograph was attending a Joint Bill Committee meeting and had instructed his colleague to cast votes for him, adding that it would not happen again.
Tint San’s request for a media ban was “suitable and fair to the Parliament, the MPs and the media,” Shwe Mann said last week, issuing the order to close up the press booths.
“The way they are saying that they acted with honest intentions since their colleagues had instructed them to cast votes for them, it hurts the dignity and discipline of lawmakers. People are criticizing lawmakers for that,” said Tun Aung Kyaw, adding that proxy voting was not a widespread practice.