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How the USDP- Union Solidarity and Development Party can avoid a landslide loss in 2015

July 10, 2013

How the USDP can avoid a landslide loss in 2015
By U Ye Tun | Monday, 08 July 2013

The Union Solidarity and Development Party can choose to tackle the National League for Democracy head on – or use its control over constitutional change to negotiate an election deal.

National League for Democracy members celebrate the party’s by-election victory in Yangon Region’s Kawhmu township on April 1, 2012. (Ko Taik/The Myanmar Times)

The seventh hluttaw, or parliament, session will see the formation of a committee to review the constitution, as proposed in March during the sixth session. One issue that the committee could be expected to examine is voting systems.

However, the Union Election Commission has stated that it will not wait for findings of this committee and will instead submit a proposal to amend the electoral system during this session.

Under Myanmar’s present first-past-the-post system the candidate with the highest number of votes is the winner. If it is used in the 2015 election, I believe the National League for Democracy will win a majority of seats in parliament. This may not be a problem if they win a small majority but political stability could be affected if the NLD wins a landslide. Like most people, I want to see our country move forward in a peaceful and stable manner.

The commission has said it will try to replace the first-past-the-post system with proportional representation, which is likely to ensure that no party can win a landslide victory. However, the form of proportional representation needs to be appropriate for a country like ours where democracy is just starting to take root again. If the proposed new system is relatively simple and fair, a constitutional amendment is likely to be approved by Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and Tatmadaw MPs.

However, even if the electoral system is amended, the NLD can still win a majority if the USDP does not continue to pursue a reform agenda over the next two-and-a-half years. There are some, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who seem to think that this is likely. I think the USDP has two options: to try and significantly change the political landscape before the 2015 election, or work with the NLD to ensure stability following the election. Changing public perceptions about U Thein Sein’s government will require them to recognise the following points.

The government must reach a political solution to end conflicts with ethnic armed groups so that they can cut military expenses, which are a burden to the country, and divert state funding to other sectors, including health, education and housing.

In order to alleviate poverty, government bodies need to address land disputes effectively and fairly and not wait for the outcome of the parliament’s land dispute investigation commission. Because this issue is not being addressed and government actions are biased toward those who have acquired land from farmers, including the invention or distortion of facts and figures and the threatening of farmers, many people feel that the country is not changing. The cases are still happening: During the recent two-day special session of parliament in May, a farmer from Kyaukse came and complained to me that the township administrator had forced him and others to sign a statement that said they had “donated” their land.

Illegal or unfair decisions were made by the previous military government, such as the sale or transfer of property, and the government should help shed light on these cases and compensate those who suffered as a result.

The government should put more emphasis on effectively and quickly eradicating corruption. Coorruption is deep-rooted and affects everyone. In general people tend to associate corruption with departmental offices and law courts where nothing happens without a bribe. When asked if the new government has really brought about change on the ground, this continued problem causes many people to say no. While education programs are needed, particularly for students, the anti-corruption law about to be passed by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw also needs to be properly enforced.

The last but most important point is that USDP MPs need to be united in their support for the reform process. Most seem to be happy that they have been guaranteed five years in parliament and believe they should grab as many opportunities as they can before their term is up. With that kind of attitude the party will struggle to change the country.

If these points are addressed before the 2015 election, the USDP can give itself a fighting chance. It might not win, but it will probably not be wiped off the electoral map.

But there is another option: Negotiate with the NLD. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has already expressed her desire to be president. This may bring an opportunity for the USDP. For the NLD leader to be eligible for the presidency, clauses in the constitution outlining the qualifications of the president will have to be amended. Whether these amendments are passed depends on the USDP and the Tatmadaw commander-in-chief. If concessions are made on both sides, the amendments could be approved. One outcome would see Daw Aung San Suu Kyi become president and two USDP leaders become speakers of the two national legislatures.

But how could this be achieved? To have the qualification clauses amended, in 2015 the NLD will not run in constituencies that the two designated USDP leaders contest so as to ensure they are elected. When the hluttaw speakers are nominated, NLD MPs will second the selection of the USDP leaders as speakers. This could ensure a degree of stability in Myanmar politics in the post-2015 election period.

Of course, these deals are easier to propose than to put into action. Many obstacles will have to be overcome. For example, will Daw Aung San Suu Kyi be able to persuade hardliners in her own party to accept it? Will the USDP be able to guarantee passage of constitutional amendments through the hluttaw?

Maybe it will not be possible. However, I believe if all involved focus on the realisation of a stable democratic country that brings benefits to all 60 million people, these obstacles can be overcome.

U Ye Tun is the Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Hsipaw from the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party.

Translated by Thit Lwin

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