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29 July – 3 August: Move to Proportional Representation a Power Grab by the Military-backed USDP

August 5, 2014

4 August 2014 Kaung Myat Min IrrawaddyThe debate over a potential change to Burma’s electoral system, from a First Past the Post System (FPP) to a Proportional Representation System (PR) is gathering momentum, with a new committee formed by the Parliamentary lower house speaker, Shwe Mann, to discuss whether this is appropriate for the country. While the general debate over suitability of differing electoral systems is complex and broad, if seen through the eyes of the context in Burma, there is one clear winner if this change is implemented before the 2015 general election: the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) which is unsurprisingly supportive of this change.

The argument for Burma to change to PR is certainly compelling. Theoretically, it will give smaller political parties, such as the NDF who proposed the motion, more chance of representation in the legislature, while the same goes for smaller ethnic political parties. Yet it is much more complex than this. For constituencies in ethnically concentrated areas, where there is a dominant ethnic political party, for example the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) in Arakan State, FPP is more advantageous for that dominant ethnic political party, as seen in the RNDP’s dominance of the Arakan State legislature. Focusing on winning seats in ethnically concentrated areas might be the only way that ethnic political parties guarantee representation under the first past the post system. Yet under PR, if the total population of a certain ethnic group is under the 1% threshold of votes needed to gain a seat that is typical of PR, then that party will not win any seats at all, even if the ethnic nationality it represents is dominant in certain constituencies.

Yet if we move away from the complexities of the argument for PR over FPP, if the electoral system is indeed changed, the one clear winner will be the USDP. This is because under the current system, the dominance of the National League for Democracy (NLD) means that it is highly likely that they will enjoy a sweeping victory in next year’s election, certainly in central and lower Burman-dominated areas, but also in constituencies where non-Burman ethnic composition is mixed. This was seen in the 2012 by-election, where the NLD won all but one seat. If the 2012 by-election would have been based on PR however, the USDP would have gained much more than their single seat victory, as they received nearly a third of the total votes, and as such, would have won nearly a third of the seats.

The next question that needs to be asked then is whether PR is fairer as it more accurately represents the number of votes that parties receive? For many people that question could quite easily be answered yes, but Burma is different. The USDP is the military backed party, with many members formerly of the armed forces. The 2008 Constitution already guarantees that the military has 25% of the seats in both houses of Parliament. A PR system might give smaller parties a few more seats in Parliament, but the most significant change will mean significantly more USDP seats at the expense of the NLD, and thus a greater combined block that is either military or military backed. It is thus of no wonder that current USDP MPs support the change to PR.

Burma has not even had one free and fair general election since 1990, except the 2012 by-elections. The results of the 2010 general election are widely seen as fraudulent, while the 2012 by-elections that were much freer were dominated by the NLD. This is frightening for the ruling party and the military and, as such, they are very much in favour of a change from an electoral system under which they know they will suffer a heavy loss, despite the 25% guarantee of seats in parliament.

Burma’s transition to democracy is still in its earliest of phases, and as such, substantial changes in the political system orchestrated by the ruling party are simply not suited. As Ko Ko Gyi from the 88 Generation Open Society stated; “We are still at a stage where the status of representation in parliament is questionable. For an important change like this, we must debate long and hard. We should not rush into this.” Burma certainly should not rush into a political move that consolidates the power of the military and its proxy political party. More reforms need to take place, particularly amending the 2008 Constitution, to ensure that a PR system will be a more democratic electoral system.

News Highlights

In Laiza, Kachin State, members of the armed ethnic groups hold an Ethnic Armed Organizations’ Summit where they agreed on ten points in the second draft of the nationwide ceasefire agreement, including the creation of a genuine federal system for the country, which will be raised with the government’s Peace-Making Work Committee and Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team to hold an informal meeting with Myanmar Peace Center in Myitkyina, Kachin State, to discuss the ten-point agreements

Inside Burma

National League for Democracy (NLD) decides not to accept 400,000 kyat (US$400) stipend provided by the lower house parliament for work-related visits to constituencies, due to ambiguity surrounding laws to audit such funds

NLD says Union Election Commission has agreed to amend seven of nine electoral regulations, which were controversially drafted earlier this year while Lower House of Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann forms a commission comprised of  24 members from respective parties, including NLD and ethnic parties, to study an appropriate electoral system for Burma, and some parties have joined the commission to prevent a shift towards Proportional Representation System

President Thein Sein’s spokesman Ye Htut is nominated for the new Information Minister after announcing the removal of Information Minister Aung Kyi from his post the day before

The Interim Press Council meets with Thein Sein in Naypyidaw, where he agrees to mandate the semi-independent Interim Press Council to mediate and communicate disputes involving media with concerned ministries

A branch of Myanma Ahlin Newspaper based in Moulmein began distributing its weekly newspaper and journals in ethnic languages – Mon, S’gaw Karen, Pwo Karen, and Pa-O – with one page devoted to each language

Mandalay relaxes curfew by one hour after the clash between Buddhists and Muslims left a Muslim man and a Buddhist man dead along with at least 14 others who were injured

Security police clash with villagers protesting the Latpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Region when villagers attempted to herd cattle in an area confiscated by government authorities

In Chin State, a Burma Army captain and another military personnel enter the Kuan Chaung village and assaults a village tract administrator without any reason, while villagers are celebrating a traditional festival

Burma Army kills a 16-year-old boy from Ga Leng IDPs camp while he and his two friends were working in a maize field near Loi Ngam village in Kutkai Township, Kachin State

In Namkham Township, northern Shan State, two Burma Army officers from Infantry Division 88 are murdered by unknown armed men near the Sino-Burma border, where clashes between government troops and armed ethnic groups continue to take place

Burma police seize more than 140 kilograms of opium worth over US$2.3 million and several automatic weapons from the Thailand-Burma border in eastern Shan State and in Buthidaung, Rakhine State, the police seize 100,000 yaba tablets from a ship coming from Sittwe and three suspects have been arrested


Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) cancels its plan to invest $25 million in Burma’s Asian Wings Airways (AWA) due to “intensified” competition between airlines in the country

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to attend a series of meetings with foreign ministers as well as East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum in Burma

Thailand plans to allow companies to raise funds locally for infrastructure projects – such as power plants, tollways and other public works – in neighbouring countries like Laos, Burma and Cambodia

In Paletwa and Mariah Wa town, southern Chin State, Burma government to open the fourth Indo-Burma border trade office for transportation and goods inspection


In regards to continuous growth of opium in rural areas, a military representative in the upper house of parliament blames Western countries, saying opium continue to be cultivated in rural areas because it makes easy money for poor farmers who have felt the sting of economic sanctions imposed by the West

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to visit Burma to meet government leaders and to attend the Asean Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit

Hmuu Zaw, a senior official from the President’s Office, disagrees to the UN Special Rapporteur’s statement in which she warned the country risks possible backtracking on political reforms


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This post is in: Weekly Highlights