South Asia and Beyond

Myanmar Junta Again Hints At Switch To Proportional Representation Electoral System

 Myanmar Junta Again Hints At Switch To Proportional Representation Electoral System

Election officials count votes during the general election in 2020. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

The junta-appointed electoral body chief has further confirmed the regime’s plan to switch to the proportional representation (PR) electoral system, saying the closed-list PR system will be applied in future elections in Myanmar.

Speaking at the conclusion of a training session for staff of the Union Election Commission (UEC), junta-appointed UEC chairman U Thein Soe said the closed-list PR system is simple and allows voters to cast votes easily.

As the regime is planning to hold a new election in August next year, it is fair to assume that closed-list PR will be introduced in next year’s voting.

Critics say the regime’s proposed replacement of the current first-past-the-post system with PR is aimed at preventing another electoral defeat for its proxy party, after the National League for Democracy (NLD) won landslide victories in the general elections in 1990, 2015 and 2020—the only exception being the 2010 poll, which it boycotted.

PR effectively prevents major popular parties like the NLD and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy from winning by huge margins, while making it easier for parties such as the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party and others that lost in previous elections to achieve greater representation in Parliament.

Political analysts say that democratic parties will see their power diluted under a PR system, as around 30 political parties out of some 90 in Myanmar are believed to be allies of the military.

Given that 25 per cent of parliamentary seats are reserved for armed forces personnel under the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, introducing PR would give junta chief Min Aung Hlaing a good chance of becoming president after next year’s election.

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The junta-appointed UEC led by former general Thein Soe has met four times with political parties to discuss the PR system. Smaller parties and pro-military parties, which lost badly in the 2020 general election, were present at the meetings.

Major political parties including the NLD, which won over 80 per cent of the vote in the 2020 poll and ethnic political parties that won seats in the same election boycotted the meetings and repeated their opposition to switching to a PR system.

Under closed-list PR, voters vote not for candidates, but for parties, which receive parliamentary seats proportional to the percentage of votes they win in the election. Candidates are elected according to their pre-stated position on this list.

The junta-appointed electoral body claims that PR will allow a wide representation of ethnic nationalities in the legislature, thereby enabling a more inclusive administrative system.

The regime is also amending the country’s electoral laws and political parties registration law to accommodate PR.

The NLD has refused to recognise the junta’s UEC, saying the body is not legal. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month urged the international community to reject the Myanmar junta’s “sham elections” planned for next year, saying they would be neither free nor fair.

(By arrangement with ‘The Irrawaddy’)