During a debate today in Burma’s lower house of parliament, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said a referendum should be held to gauge public opinion on the various types of voting systems proposed for the 2015 elections.
In particular, Suu Kyi said the public should be given a chance to express whether they support a proportional representation (PR) system because the public never asked for it in the first place.
Khin San Hlaing, a lower house National League for Democracy (NLD) representative, said: “We don’t see why the current ‘first-past-the-post’ [FPTP] system should be changed unless it causes a major problem.”
“More importantly, we think it doesn’t matter which voting method is used—so long as the people understand and accept it.”
After the upper house passed a proposal in June recommending that Burma adopt a PR system for all future elections, the proposal was sent to the lower house, which formed a review committee on the topic. The lower house review committee recently suggested eight different voting systems for the 2015 elections, and during today’s debate the NLD signalled that it wants voters to have some input on this important issue.
PR systems usually have large voting districts, which means that each voting district has many representatives. Citizens then vote for political parties rather than individual candidates, and the parties make a list of their top candidates for each district. If, for example, a party wins 20% of the votes in a 100-seat district, then that party’s top 20 candidates automatically win a seat in the district.
PR systems are thought to benefit (e.g. ethnic) minorities because even if a minority comprises only 3% of a 100-seat district, then that minority will likely win three seats (assuming everyone votes along ethnic lines) and therefore have a voice in government.
A potential drawback of PR systems is that districts tend to be large, so voters might not be familiar with the parties’ candidates or policies. Similarly, a party’s top candidates might not know or care about issues in a voter’s local area. As a result, voters in PR systems must trust the party they vote for because it’s the parties that select the candidates. The voters only vote for their favorite party, which may or may not choose good candidates.
*This article has been amended since first published on 27 October 2014.