Myanmar’s Lower House Forms Committee on Proportional Representation

Burma’s Lower House Forms Committee on Proportional Representation

A session in Burma’s Union Parliament in Naypyidaw in 2012. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

A session in Burma’s Union Parliament in Naypyidaw in 2012. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

The Burmese Parliament’s Lower House will form a commission to discuss the proportional representation (PR) electoral system, lawmakers said, after three days of heated debate on the proposal to change how future governments are elected.

Lawmakers in Naypyidaw discussed the issue after Aung Zin, a lawmaker from the small political party National Democratic Force, proposed a switch to the system. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party has come out in support of PR, while ethnic minority parties and the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) oppose changing from the current first-past-the-post system.

Lower House speaker Shwe Mann on Tuesday said that a commission involving experts will be formed to discuss the proposal, according to lawmakers.

“The house speaker [Shwe Mann] reaffirmed his promise made to ethnic lawmakers that he would act fairly on the ethnic groups’ concerns,” said Khin Saw Wai, a lawmaker from Rathaetaung constituency in Arakan State.

She said the speaker did not elaborate on how the commission will be formed and who it will include.

“I hope it will include experts on the electoral system, not necessarily lawmakers,” she added.

A PR proposal has already been approved by the Upper House, which set up its own commission, made up of lawmakers, to consider the system. But the proposal has sparked lively debate in the Lower House this week and last, with some ethnic members of Parliament boycotting sessions at which it was discussed.

Khin Saw Wai said that about an equal number of lawmakers spoke in support and in opposition of the proposal. More than 40 MPs spoke in total on Thursday, Monday and Tuesday, including three military representatives who discussed the proposal without taking a clear side, she said.

The proposal’s author, Aung Zin, told The Irrawaddy earlier this month that he thought PR should be only used in the central Burmese regions or divisions, while the states, where most ethnic minorities live, should continue to use first past the post. NLD lawmakers have argued that the whole country should use the same electoral system.

Opponents have also argued that PR puts the focus of elections on the party not the candidate.

During the three days of debate, a military representative argued that PR would make it more likely that “extremists” could win seats in Parliament, according to lawmakers.

Min Thu, an NLD lawmaker from Naypyidaw’s Oattarathiri Township, said the NLD was also opposed to the proposal because it could sideline smaller ethnic parties.

“The use of PR could affect ethnic MPs in the ethnic states, and only those ethnic representatives who are members of powerful parties might get a chance to win.”

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