RANGOON — The mayor of Rangoon informed reporters on Wednesday that by-laws have been amended to allow the terms of serving members of the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) to be terminated after less than 18 months in office.
The changes will also allow members of political parties to stand as candidates in upcoming city elections.
A new committee will be soon formed to expedite the elections, Mayor Maung Maung Soe told reporters at his Rangoon office. The Rangoon Division Chief Minister and other high-ranking bureaucrats are to appoint four new executive committee members to the YCDC, who will work “closely” with the mayor to hold the municipal election in a manner that is “neutral” and cost-effective.
The mayor declined to comment on the specifics of the municipal election, and dismissed the more probing questions from reporters.
Earlier this month, the impending YCDC election had faced postponement due to the expressed intention of the Rangoon Division Chief Minister, U Phyo Min Thein, to amend the relevant electoral law to expand voting rights beyond heads-of-households. This has yet to be carried out, and the mayor did not mention the initiative, leaving it unclear whether the YCDC election will meet the critical international standard of universal adult franchise.
The mayor’s announcement comes after disaffection among the YCDC’s membership spilled over into public statements this week. Elected members rejected an order from Rangoon’s mayor to alter the YCDC electoral by-law as a means of removing them from their positions before their terms had formally concluded. However, the unelected mayor has overruled their objections.
Rangoon Mayor Maung Maung Soe, who was appointed to his post last month by President Htin Kyaw, chairs the YCDC, the city’s municipal authority since 1990, which is nominally independent of the divisional government and other levels of Burma’s administration.
The YCDC currently has 115 elected committee members, including four individuals representing four districts of the commercial capital who serve within the YCDC’s executive committee. All were voted in during 2014’s citywide election—the first in more than 60 years but which, similar to village tract and ward elections staged earlier this year, only permitted heads-of-households to vote.
The executive committee of the YCDC is made up of nine members, including and led by the mayor. Until Monday, the group included four members appointed by the previous government—all with military backgrounds—and four elected in the 2014 poll.
Three of the appointed members resigned on Tuesday; their terms had been over since March 31 when the previous government had stepped down.
A statement was issued on Tuesday with the signature of the Rangoon Division Chief Minister, declaring that the terms of both elected and appointed YCDC members had been completed—in accordance with the amendment of Article 64 of the YCDC electoral by-law. The article formerly allowed serving members to work until the day prior to newly elected members taking their oaths.
“The by-law has been changed. Therefore, all committee members are automatically dismissed. It’s not just about him,” said the mayor, referring to Khin Hlaing—an executive member who publicly complained of his looming dismissal this week with other YCDC members.
“I was really upset when they posted on Facebook that the ‘three elected members’ [Khin Hlaing and his associates on the executive committee] should now control the municipality. It’s like a coup,’’ said the mayor.
In response to the amendment of the YCDC electoral by-law, Khin Hlaing and two other elected YCDC members held a press conference at Rangoon’s City Hall on Tuesday. A small confrontation with security guards took place beforehand, indicative of how tense the dispute within the YCDC had become. Khin Hlaing and his associates claimed that the mayor and chief ministers had attempted to remove all members without informing them.
The mayor told reporters that Article 64 of the YCDC electoral by-law contravened the principal law governing the YCDC. This prompted him to submit a proposal to amend the by-law to the Rangoon chief minister.
“[The provisions of] the by-law should not supersede the main law,’’ said the mayor.
Article 83, barring political party members from contesting in municipal elections, has also been changed to allow for their participation. The mayor claimed that the earlier prohibition was “inappropriate for the current situation,” because now “many people are not non-partisan.”
Soe Tun, chairman of the Myanmar Farmers’ Association and a serving member of the YCDC, wrote a Facebook post on Wednesday morning claiming that YCDC members had expected their terms in office to extend to five years from their 2014 election date, and were now unexpectedly being made to quit. This has caused considerable dissatisfaction, the Facebook post continued, because the elected members have worked in their posts for barely one and a half years, although the government’s term is five years.
Soe Tun urged to the government to “summon all elected members to explain” the situation, and to set a date for the upcoming YCDC election.
Khin Maung Tint, an elected YCDC member, told The Irrawaddy that he received the letter ordering his dismissal today, and was busy clearing his documents from the office. He claimed that he and his colleagues had done their best to serve the public during the course of their short term, working honestly and attempting to root out bribery within the institution.
“I don’t want to say who was right or wrong,” Khin Maung Tint said in reference to the recent actions of the mayor and chief minister. “Decide it for yourself. We respect the law. We are leaving now.”