Posted in Legislative Analysis, Political Institutions on Nov 07, 2019

The Union Election Commission (UEC) has announced amendments to the Pyithu Hluttaw electoral by-law with the Announcement No. 55/2019. The amendment is considered a necessary reform on the path to democracy. We cover the main points from the amendment in this article.

Voters outside their own constituency

According to the original Pyithu Hluttaw electoral by-law, eligible voters can apply for the right to vote in a new constituency of residence only if they have been outside their former constituency for over 180 days (6 months). The amendment will reduce this requirement and allow voters to vote in their current constituency if they’ve been outside their previous residence for 90 days (3 months). This is arguably a positive move that will enable those who face difficulties returning to their previous constituency to vote, and will be of particular benefit to groups of citizens who, for example, have migrated for work.

However, another of the amendments may create a barrier for prospective voters. This is because a prescriptive cut-off date is to be set, after which applications to vote will not be accepted. The intention is to allow the UEC time to check the electoral roll in order to prevent individuals from voting twice, in both their current and former constituencies. Whilst this intention is proper, it needs to be balanced against the risk that such a cut-off date may significantly reduce the number of voters who register.

Polling stations in the army cantonment

There have been 5 elections, including 2 general elections, since 2010. Whilst neither the 2008 Constitution nor the Electoral Law stipulate the establishment of separate polling stations for military personnel and their families, previous elections have seen polling stations established in army compounds. An amendment is proposed to change this, requiring military personnel and their families to vote at the regular polling stations determined by the township election commission. This amendment creates a fair and equal platform for all citizens, military or civilian, to cast their vote without undue influence. It is an important that citizens can vote according to their wishes; fairly and freely.

Electoral record

In holding free and fair elections, responsible electoral bodies like the UEC need to be independent. Therefore, a further notable amendment requires the electoral record (record on the election campaigns abiding by the law) to send only to the district and region/state election commission, and not to the General Administration Department (GAD) as with the original by-law. This gives the UEC the responsibility to oversee the election independently in accordance with its prescribed duties.

Negotiating Committee

A sub-provision added by the amendment is the formation of a ‘Negotiating Committee’, involving ‘electoral stakeholders’ at all levels of election commissions, in order to review disputes related to the election.

It is assumed this amendment is intended to ensure satisfactory resolution of pre- and post- electoral disputes before conducting with electoral law. However, the definition of “electoral stakeholders” is too broad. Who does this mean? Instead of this term, the amendment should specify whether this means election candidates and their representatives, or party representatives, will be consulted in forming such a committee.

A forward step by commission with by-law

On the journey towards democracy, Myanmar has been carrying out necessary reforms in many sectors. This announcement from the UEC aims to reform election regulation for the better and on the whole proposes positive changes. The initiation of such reforms through by-laws may be a model for other sectors in need of reform where primary legislation is unnecessary.

By Hla Myo Kyaw