It is with gratitude that Opposition International welcomes U Win (a pseudonym for safety reasons) as a contributor. U Win is a researcher and human rights activist from Myanmar, with 10 years’ experience working and writing about politics, human rights and the criminal justice system of Myanmar. U Win’s research interests include access to justice and rule of law.
The submission deals with a little-known pledge by the Military government of Myanmar to replace the current First Past the Post (FPP)!voting method with some form of Proportional Representation (PR). According to one report, “Under the junta’s plan, seats in parliament would be given to parties based on the percentage of the vote they received nationwide. In both of the previous two elections, the NLD was awarded a percentage of seats that was higher than the percentage it secured of the national vote.”
As anyone who has cut his teeth on the Arrow Theorem and the mathematics of representation, it is difficult to predict the result from a PR system because of the alchemy of coalition politics.
A Shift from FPP to PR: What does it mean for Ethnic and Smaller parties in Myanmar
Myanmar had held five general elections since its dependence from the British in 1948. The most recent election was held in 2020. Throughout history, Myanmar used First Past the Post system (FPP). For the past few months, many news media have reported that Myanmar Junta is gearing up for the next general election in 2023. One of the most discussed topics has been the electoral system- a shift from FPP to Proportional Representation (PR). Since day one, the State Administrative Council led by military leader Min Aung Hlaing said that the country will adopt a PR system. Until today, the Ministry of Information has held 21 press conferences and there has never been a day passed without talking about irregularities and frauds allegedly committed by the winning party- National League for Democracy (NLD) and the change in the electoral system.
The PR system was first advocated by the International Crisis Group during U Thein Sein’s regime. The proposal was supported by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and a few ethnic minority parties. But there were political parties that suggested removing 25% of seats constitutionally held by the military to implement the PR system. This proposal was also coincidental with a landslide victory of NLD in the 2012 by-election. With the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi’s popularity, the USDP sensed that the PR system was the more favoured system to beat its rival.
USDP and military representatives argue that a move from FPP to PR will benefit ethnic minorities and smaller political parties because the system ensures their representatives in the parliament even if they win a small percentage. Thus, diverse groups of people would also be included in administration and government.
From ethnic minorities’ perspective, it is not a good sign for several reasons. First, the 2008 constitution is not inclusive and fair. Apart from 25% of seat reservations, elected members do not have the power to elect their chief minister but only the president under the constitution. Thus, it would only increase the number of representatives from the USDP under the PR system, enabling the military’s monopoly on the election of the president.
Secondly, even though the date of the election has not been announced, given the constitutional limit on the emergency declaration, it is expected that the next general election could be held between February to August 2023. The announcement of the election date is important for ethnic minority parties because the campaign period is only two months which is noticeably short for some ethnic political parties to strategize campaigns and voter education which requires a lot of time for preparation. In addition, the military junta has introduced a new election law which requires political parties to have 100,000 members within three months of registration, have offices in 330 townships, and have funds amounting to 100 million kyats. If these conditions are not met, small and ethnic parties would be automatically disqualified for upcoming elections.
Finally, Myanmar’s political situation is already fragile with a long history of armed conflicts between ethnic armed groups and successive governments even before the coup of 2021. But this coup has worsened the socioeconomic and political crisis. The coup also produced another group of armed resistance known as the People’s Defence Force (PDF). Now, aided by some ethnic armed groups, PDF is fighting against the military, and it is likely to continue unless they can come to political compromises. It is more severe in ethnic areas such as Chin, Kachin, Karen, Rakhine State, and regions such as Sagaing and Magwe. Even the two most peaceful cities- Yangon and Naypyidaw are not immune from guerrilla attacks from PDF. Therefore, ethnic parties and smaller parties will have difficult tasks ahead to pick momentum they have built over the past years without sufficient preparation for the upcoming election if that happens.