RANGOON — Burma’s ethnic political parties plan to organize protests across the country to show their opposition to the proportional representation (PR) electoral system, which was approved by the Upper House of Parliament this month for use in the 2015 election.
The Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF), an alliance of 20 ethnic parties, plans to stage protests in each of the country’s ethnic states, beginning in Shan State, according to NBF spokesman Saw Than Myint.
“We plan to protest in Kyauk Mae Township, northern Shan State, next week, and in other states and divisions next month,” he told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
Saw Than Myint said ethnic parties were concerned that a change to the electoral system would confuse voters, particularly those in ethnic states who do not speak Burmese as a first language.
“We held an election in 2010. At that time, a lot of people did not understand the electoral system, so there were many rejected votes. If a new electoral system is introduced, it will be very difficult for ethnic people to understand it,” he said.
He added that ethnic politicians would be more likely to boost their representation in Parliament under the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system, in which candidates win seats by receiving the most votes in their own constituencies. By contrast, under a PR system, the number of seats won by a party is proportionate to the number of votes received.
A majority of lawmakers in the Upper House voted on June 11 to switch from the FPTP system to a PR system for the nomination of Upper House lawmakers in 2015. Eighty-five lawmakers, mostly from the military, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic 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.
A proposal to adopt the PR system for the nomination of Lower House lawmakers will also be up for discussion soon in Parliament. “If they vote to approve it, ethnic parties will not be able to beat stronger parties,” Saw Than Myint said.
The NBF has sent a letter to Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann with concerns about the PR system, according to Sai Hla Kyaw, general secretary of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, also known as the White Tiger Party. “U Thura Shwe Mann met with us on Wednesday,” he told The Irrawaddy.
He said it was possible that the Lower House would decide to adopt a PR system in divisions, which are largely populated by the ethnic Bamar majority, while retaining the FPTP system in ethnic states.
If that happens, he said, “we will give some time and postpone the protests.”
He added that although the Upper House had already decided to adopt a PR system, it would be difficult to create rules and regulations for the new system in time for the 2015 election.