The Demise of Proportional Representation Proposals in Myanmar.

Posted by Sarah John on November 14, 2014

A few months ago, FairVote covered debates about the adoption of proportional representation (PR) in Myanmar in preparation for the 2015 Elections. The 2015 elections are a significant test of Myanmar's burgeoning democracy as Aung Suu Kyi’s  National League for Democracy is likely to oust the remnants of Myanmar's military junta (the Union Solidarity and Development Party). The PR proposal had the potential to mitigate the losses expected for the Union Solidarity and Development Party and may have kept them a viable political force beyond 2015.

Today (11/14), the Myanmar House of Representatives announced that it would not pursue PR, because it would require a constitutional amendment. 

Certainly, a constitutional amendment would appear to be legally necessary to introduce PR for the House of Representatives (Pyithu Hluttaw in Burmese). The official English translation of Section 109 of Myanmar's 2008 Constitution says that:
Pyithu Hluttaw representatives [shall be] elected ... in accord with law on the basis of township as well as population or combining with an appropriate township which is contagious to the newly-formed township if it is more than 330 townships.
Although a somewhat confusing translation, the section appears to require districts centered around townships. It's less clear that an amendment would be needed to reform the House of Nationalities, called the Amyotha Hluttaw (see section 141 of Myanmar's Constitution).

A constitutional amendment of section 109 would be a mammoth political task. Under the 2008 Constitution, seventy-five percent of all legislators would need to pass a bill endorsing proportional representation, after which a national referendum would be held on the question. The amendment would only be passed in the instance that more than half of all citizens eligible to vote voted "yes" to the change (s436). 

In the past, the legal requirements for changing the Constitution have been ignored where politically expedient.  Perhaps, in the demise of this proposal for PR in Myanmar in an instance when it would have helped the former military junta, we are seeing the rise of a constitutionalism and respect for rule of law in Myanmar -- things that have often been lacking in its post-colonial history. 

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