An alliance of 15 ethnic political parties will stage public protests across eastern Shan State if a bill to change the country’s electoral system to a Proportional Representation (PR) voting system is passed by the Burmese parliament’s lower house, the bloc’s spokesman said this weekend.
The parliament’s upper house passed a proposal on 11 June to recommend the Union Election Commission to adopt a PR system in future elections. Burma currently employs a First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system – but proponents of the PR system say that smaller parties are more likely to get seats based on the number of votes they get, while FPTP system dictates that the winning party in a constituency takes all the seats.
The Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF) – an alliance that includes Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, and Chin National Party – has previously spoken out against the instalment of a PR system in the country, and have warned that public protests will be staged to prevent it.
Saw Than Myint, NBF spokesman and a founder of the Federal Union Party, said plans were all in place to launch public protests simultaneously in Shan State if the proposal wins support in the lower house.
“We have laid up plans to stage protests – in Lenhko in the south, and Taunggyi to Tachilek in the east, and Kyaukme and Lashio in the north,” said Saw Than Myint. “We are all set but currently are waiting to see how it will turn out in the lower house.”
Currently, there is no set date for debating the proposal in the lower house, and representatives from ethnic political parties believe that the parliament, which has a ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) majority, is trying to push the proposal through at the last minute so as to avoid drawing ire or attention from smaller parties whose votes could be lost to the USDP under a PR system, Saw Than Myint said.
He added that a pilot programme for the PR system in certain states would be more appropriate than trying to push it through immediately for the whole country.
“We had suggested piloting the PR system in seven divisions in the country, mainly those populated by non-ethnic groups, for the upcoming election, and if the populations and the parties in those areas found it to be convenient and acceptable, then we would consider supporting it in 2015,” Saw Than Myint said. “But for now, we oppose it from all sides.”
Representatives of nationalist ethnic parties, who hold a large constituency in their respective states — Karen, Kachin, Shan and Mon as a few examples – are against the PR system as they believe it will give an unfair advantage to larger parties, like the ruling USDP, which has more resources to campaign across Burma.