Upper House Nixes Last Pre-Poll Legislative Session

By Zarni Mann 19 August 2015

NAYPYIDAW — Parliament’s Upper House voted to halt the current session of the legislature on Wednesday, in line with a proposal put forward the day prior that cited lawmakers’ desire to return to their constituencies to assist with flood recovery efforts and prepare for the fast-approaching election campaign season.

The proposal passed in a vote of 128 in favor versus 34 against, with 176 lawmakers in attendance.

On Tuesday, the opening day of the last legislative session before a general election due Nov. 8, embattled Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann rejected an identical proposal in that chamber, saying lawmakers were free to take leave if they felt so inclined, but that the business of Parliament would continue in their absence.

The Union Election Commission (UEC) on Monday said that the official campaign season for the country’s nationwide poll would begin Sept. 8.

Parliament’s lower chamber is expected to continue to meet ahead of that date, though its representatives appear to have been stripped of some ability to enact legislation in the absence of their Upper House counterparts.

If a joint session of Parliament is called, however, Upper House lawmakers will be expected to attend, as is the case this upcoming Thursday, when a bill on recalling sitting parliamentarians may be discusssed.

The proposed legislation is particularly contentious in this election year, and gained added weight last week after Shwe Mann was unceremoniously dumped from the chairmanship of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) on Aug. 12.

Just days later, he faced a call from the UEC to immediately enact a law on impeachment proceedings for sitting parliamentarians that, if passed, could be used to remove him from office.

A petition by more than 1,700 people in his Zayarthiri constituency was submitted to the UEC last month, alleging that he had disrespected the Constitution by allowing a parliamentary vote on charter amendments in June that would have curbed the military’s role in politics.

Wednesday’s developments were just the latest twist in the lead up to Burma’s historic nationwide election, with Shwe Mann’s ouster last week sending shockwaves through the political establishment, even as the country continues to grapple with some of its worst flooding in decades. The inundation of wide swathes of the country has raised concerns about the feasibility of holding the poll in less than three months’ time, with local election officials scrambling to correct eligible voter lists and vet more than 6,000 prospective candidates submitted to the UEC.