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DVB speaks to Union Election Commission spokesperson Thaung Hlaing about electoral procedures, by-elections, and representation of ethnic minorities in the Commission.
DVB: The Nationalities Brotherhood Federation ethnic alliance has called for inclusion of ethnic members in the Union Election Commission. What is the commission’s opinion on this?
TH: Article 398 of the constitution specifies formation and criteria of the Union Election Commission – a minimum of five members appointed by the President with approval by the parliament. Currently, we are constituting sub-commissions with 15 members, six of whom are individuals with public credibility; non-government workers – they can be retired – such as community leaders with no affiliation to a political party or a political candidate, and the remaining nine members being officials from various government departments with relevance to the elections.
Regarding the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation’s call, it is what they wish for and in order to facilitate it, they will have to propose a bill in the parliament and have it approved as a law.
DVB: Are there ethnic members in the commission and sub-commissions at the moment? What is the percentage?
TH: There are ethnic members in the sub-commissions – it cannot be otherwise as members in local-level sub-commissions are required to be residents living in the respective areas as the elections are about determining their national politics. So there are local ethnic members in election sub-commissions in regions such as Chin, Karen and Arakan states who have knowledge and experience on electoral procedures.
DVB: Many ethnic-based political parties have been disbanded or have merged with other parties. Are such procedures allowed by election laws?
TH: Officially there are 66 parties in total approved for registration with us to date – there were only 37 parties back in 2010 and two of them were dissolved after failing to complete registration in time. But none of the current 66 parties has been abolished. Some ethnic-based parties are looking to merge with one another. They reasoned with us that the merger is necessary as they are currently small scattered parties and will only be able to work efficiently on matters such as political campaigns with stronger membership provided they can form alliances and coalitions with other parties.
However, according to the existing law, an individual cannot participate in two different parties at the same time. Also, materials and assets of a political party, when it is dissolved, shall be obtained by the State. That’s why we issued a directive to work around these procedures – allowing two parties to merge into a third party – so that parties can merge without losing their assets.
DVB: There are vacant seats in the parliament left by representatives who passed away or were appointed to government administrations. What is the exact number?
TH: There are around 20 vacant seats left by representatives in the upper and lower houses and regional parliaments for various reasons. The UEC’s chairman has stated there is no plan for a by-election as the country has been occupied hosting the SEA Games and assuming the ASEAN chairmanship.
DVB: The 2015 elections are about a year and half away – is there any mechanism for constituents of the vacant seats to have their needs addressed in parliament?
TH: Citing what our chairman said: there are still mechanisms to allow the public to address their needs as there are three parliament assemblies – upper and lower houses, and the regional assembly – for each township. Although they might be missing a representative for one of the assemblies, they still have representatives in the other two other assemblies so they can still address their issues. Also, our commission has never fully rejected a plan for by-elections. Hosting elections is a process that takes some time – there must be some period of time provided for campaigning, printing ballots, compiling voters lists and training ballot station personnel which may take at least two to three months. The rainy season is coming in a few months and usually it is not a convenient time to host elections.