RANGOON — More than 100 people gathered in front of Rangoon’s City Hall on Tuesday to protest against plans to change the country’s electoral system to proportional representation (PR) ahead of all-important polls next year.
“PR—we don’t want it! Stop the PR system in Parliament!” the activists chanted as they marched from the Maha Bandoola Park area, up Sule Pagoda Road, down Pansodan Street and back to City Hall along Merchant Street.
Burma’s Upper House of Parliament has already approved switching from first past the post (FPTP) to the PR system for the 2015 election, and the Lower House has just formed a commission to discuss what electoral system the country should use. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has backed the PR proposal—put forward by lawmakers from the small National Democratic Force (NDF) party—which is opposed by the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic minority parties.
“We can’t accept the Parliament’s decision that was due to oppression by the majority in Parliament, while ethnic minority parties and the NLD oppose it,” said Myat Kyaw, spokesman of Mass Movement Acceleration Network, a group leading the protest.
He said the PR system would lead to the disintegration of national solidarity since it was opposed by ethnic parties.
“We can’t say whether the protest will have an affect or not. But we can make people know what PR is, and also at least we can express our voice: that we don’t want the PR system. If Parliament respects the desires of the public, they should listen,” Myat Kyaw said.
He said that activists in Prome Township in Pegu Division also held a protest against the PR system, and another demonstration will be held in Mingala Taungnyunt Township in Rangoon on Saturday.
“The authorities refused us permission to protest. We asked for permission to protest in Kyauktada Township, but they asked us to protest in Tamwe Township. They are avoiding giving us permission,” he said.
“The public does not understand the PR system. I think by using the PR system, the ruling party wants to change the outcome because they don’t have much chance of winning the election,” Kyi Linn from Mass Movement Acceleration Network, said.
Parliamentary elections set to be held at the end of 2015 will be the first nationwide polls that the NLD, the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, will be allowed to contest since the government moved to a nominally democratic form of government.
“The USDP want to switch the [electoral] system, in collaboration with the NDF party, so the NLD won’t win the 2015 election. So we oppose it,” said Than Aung, an NLD member from Hlaing Township.
“It will cover up the USDP losing the election, because they can get seats in Parliament in proportion with the number of votes they get, unlike the current FPTP system in which the winning lawmaker in each constituency wins a seat in Parliament.”
Aung Zin, one of the NDF lawmakers who proposed PR in Parliament, argued that he wanted to change the electoral system in favor of smaller parties.
“I proposed the switch to PR system because under the PR system, we can get more minority groups’ representatives and voices in Parliament, since the seats are in proportion with the number of votes,” he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.