Woman’s Party Won’t Budge on Name Change, Risking UEC Approval

By Yen Saning 11 May 2015

RANGOON — Members of a proposed Woman’s Party said they will not bow to the government’s request that they change their name to something “more specific,” arguing that doing so this close to elections would confuse their supporters and damage their support base.

Party Chairwoman Mi Than Shin, also known as Mi Layaung Mon, told The Irrawaddy that the Union Elections Commission (UEC) requested that the party choose a new name, preferably with something “in front of or behind” the word woman.

Deputy Director of the UEC Hla Maung Cho confirmed that the party’s application for registration eligibility, which was submitted in April, has been deferred pending an identity adjustment, a request premised on Article 8 (b) of Burma’s Political Party registration Law.

The law, which he read to The Irrawaddy over the phone on Monday, states that “if the name, flag or logo of a party applying for registration is too similar to that of another registered party or parties that have already submitted an application… the commission can direct it to choose a different name within a fixed time.”

Hla Maung Cho did not elaborate on which party’s name was in conflict with the Woman’s Party, though another new applicant, the National Party, could be the root of the problem. The Burmese word for “woman” —amyothamee—is spelled and pronounced similarly to the Burmese word for “national” —amyotha—which, rather ironically, also means “man.”

The UEC’s letter to the Woman’s Party, a copy of which was obtained by The Irrawaddy, did not cite Article 8 (a), explaining instead that the term “woman” represented a wide variety of voters throughout the country, hence it was “too general” to join the ranks of other registered parties such as the United Democratic Party and the Union Democratic Party.

“We don’t wish to change our name,” said Mi Than Shin. “It has been six months now [since we formed the party]. We can’t back down now, because we have already started to organize and collect members.

“We cannot accept the name change. If we cannot register under our name, at worst we will not be able to contest,” she said, adding that the party had already conceded to the UEC’s demand that it drop one of its 15 core members and find a replacement.

The Woman’s Party was founded in October of last year with the aim of increasing female representation in politics by creating an inclusive and welcoming space for women of all ethnicities to participate in governance.

The chairwoman said that the party has received support in several parts of the country, and hopes to establish chapters in each ethnic state to empower more minority women.

Burma has the lowest percentage of women in its national Parliament of any country in the entire region, about five percent. The global average is around 22 percent.

At the local level, Burma’s performance is even worse: Less than four percent of elected state and divisional lawmakers are women.

While some political parties have adopted voluntary measures to increase the number of women seeking candidacy, Burma does not have any existing legislative or constitutional tools to address the issue.

Representatives of the Woman’s Party are travelling to Naypyidaw to negotiate the name change with the UEC, Mi Than Shin said.

A review of 15 new political parties is currently underway by the UEC, which will ultimately approve or deny their eligibility for party registration. Two new parties have already been approved.