RANGOON — Activists in Burma began a signature campaign on Tuesday to tally public opposition to an electoral system based on proportional representation (PR), which some parties including the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party are pushing to implement ahead of nationwide elections next year.
The Mass Movement Acceleration Network, Democracy Force Association and activists based in the Rangoon townships of Botahtaung, Pazundaung, Dawbon and Thaketa have joined forces to collect signatures in the commercial capital.
“We are starting the signature campaign today and will hold a signing ceremony on Thursday by inviting around 50 civil society organizations,” Myat Kyaw, spokesman of the Mass Movement Acceleration Network, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.
He said activists in each of Rangoon’s 33 townships would collect signatures from the public at homes, bus stops and teashops, wrapping up the campaign one week before the next session of Parliament, which is expected to begin on Sept. 11. Activists outside Rangoon seeking to support the petition drive would receive assistance in carrying out local efforts to gather signatures, Myat Kyaw added.
“We protested against PR on August 5 and now we are organizing this campaign to send public opposition to PR directly to Parliament,” he said.
He said the activists would send the signatures to Parliament to bolster the opposing stance of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic political parties.
Burma’s Upper House of Parliament has already approved switching from the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system to a PR-based alternative, a proposal that the main opposition NLD party and ethnic minority parties are against. Parliament’s Lower House has formed a commission to discuss which electoral system the country should use.
“A PR system would lead to the disintegration of national solidarity since it is opposed by ethnic parties and would bring extremists to Parliament since the seats [are allotted] proportionate with the vote,” Myat Kyaw said.
He added that regardless of whether the petition is successful in swaying a Parliament dominated by the pro-PR Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the activists will have done their duty in recording the public’s opposition for the history books.
More than 100 people, including members of Myat Kyaw’s Mass Movement Acceleration Network, protested against PR in Rangoon and in Pegu Division’s Prome Township earlier this month.
The USDP and some smaller parties support a move to PR, arguing that it allows for a wider representation of parties in the legislature and more closely hews to the spread of votes in an election. Opponents have objected on a variety of grounds, including by claiming that Burma’s young Parliament would struggle to function with the fragmentation that would likely result as more parties are granted representation. Some NLD supporters have also claimed that the PR push is an attempt by the USDP to mitigate losses in an election next year that could deal a heavy blow to its parliamentary dominance.