RANGOON — Burma’s Upper House of Parliament has voted to adopt a proportional representation (PR) system for the nomination of Upper House lawmakers in 2015.
One hundred and seventeen lawmakers, a majority in the Upper House, voted on Wednesday to switch from the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system, which benefits dominant parties, to a PR system, which tends to benefit smaller parties. Eighty-five lawmakers, mostly from the military, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic minority parties, voted against the change.
After approving the decision, the Union Election Commission will work with Upper House lawmakers to draft regulations and bylaws for the new electoral system. The Lower House will not be affected by the Upper House’s vote, but will likely discuss next week the possibility of also adopting the new electoral system in 2015.
Under the current FPTP system, the winning lawmaker in each constituency wins a seat in Parliament. Under a PR system, the number of seats won by a party is proportionate to the number of votes received.
Military lawmakers oppose a PR system, as does the NLD, the country’s biggest opposition party, which would likely see major gains during the 2015 election under a FPTP system. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), expecting losses to the NLD, supports the PR system, as does the National Democratic Force (NDF), a small party.
The Upper House has formed a 42-member commission to consider which PR system will be most appropriate for its purposes in 2015. The commission is said to include both supporters and opponents of PR.
“We will cover a wide range of views in our consideration,” said NDF lawmaker and commission member Khin Wine Kyi, who first made the proposal to adopt a PR system in the Upper House. She said the commission did not have a time frame for completing its task.
Ethnic political parties, which, under the current electoral system, would likely win seats in their constituencies of ethnic minority states, oppose the change to PR.
“We prefer the old FPTP system because our voters, also in the ethnic regions, are familiar with it, and that would mitigate the chances of any confusion,” ethnic Mon lawmaker Banyar Aung Moe told The Irrawaddy, adding that many ethnic minority voters are not able to read Burmese, the language in which ballots are written.
In the Lower House, NDF lawmaker Aung Zin, who represents Rangoon’s Pazuntaung Township, said he has been pushing for a PR system since last year because he believes it is best suited for a multi-party democracy.
“I think it will come up for discussion next week [in the Lower House],” he told The Irrawaddy.
“The public is not bad at voting,” he added, in response to concerns among ethnic lawmakers that a PR system would confuse voters. He said the Burmese people had experience heading to the polls in the 1990 election, the results of which were annulled by the former regime, as well as the 2010 election and the 2012 by-election, which saw opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi elected to the legislature.
He also stressed the important role of the Union Election Commission in counting votes in 2015.
Ba Shein, an ethnic Arakanese lawmaker in the Lower House, expressed concerns about any change to the electoral system.
“As an ethnic parliamentarian, I would like to ask whether it is in accordance with the 2008 Constitution,” he said, when asked about PR.
“We oppose the use of a PR system in these early years of our country’s transition. It is unclear whether this system would really reflect minority rights.”