Myanmar 2015

The ruling party of Myanmar (Burma), the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), has conceded that it lost this past Sunday’s election to the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Apparently the NLD has won over 70% of the elected seats. It needed over two thirds to ensure a majority in the chambers, where the military has dedicated a quarter of seats for itself. Now it can elect the country’s next president, although the current constitution bars the NLD leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from holding the position. Several days ago she stated that she would be “above” the president, implying that the president will be a figurehead. (There is no prime minister.) As leader of the majority party, and with no independent electoral mandate for the head of government, it is indeed plausible that she could wind up as the de facto leader of the country and its government.

I have not seen any estimates of vote percentages, and a final accounting may be a while off. The electoral system is first past the post, so the 70% of seats could have come on a substantially lower percentage of votes. I am also unsure of the extent to which there were other parties running. If it was just the USDP and NLD, then the latter probably won a clear majority of the vote. In any case, the term “landslide” is being used, and is probably appropriate.

The outcome does not by any means guarantee smooth democratization. The military and the new legislature will be bargaining over the scope of each other’s powers–assuming the military doesn’t stage a coup to stop it all, as it did in 1990. I do not know enough about the country to make any predictions, other than that full democracy is not here. But if it arrives, this will have been an obviously critical juncture in the process.

11 thoughts on “Myanmar 2015

  1. I still don’t understand why PR wasn’t adopted, which seemed almost certain to happen when I last wrote about the country about a year back.

  2. There are a large number of parties contesting the election, and most of them are ethnically based. At the 1990 election, parties other than the NLD and National Unity Party (the military puppet at the time) won about a quarter of the votes, and about ninety seats (the National Unity Party won only ten seats and 21% of the vote). Small and medium-sized national parties tends to be the ones that get underrepresented; at the 2010 election, the National Unity Party won 20% but only 12 seats. This does not bode well for the USDP, which might not even be the second largest party.

  3. I, too, am baffled as to why they did not opt for some sort of PR (or SNTV) system. It is not as if they did not have information from past contests to clue them in that they were less than popular.

    • A number of Pacific countries have limited votes of no confidence so much that they really should be classified as assembly-indednent. In PNG the legislative term is 5 years. Votes of no confidence are prohibited during the first 30 months after a new government is appointed.

      • In Fiji, the grace periods are 18 months for a new government, 12 months since the last motion of no confidence and 12 months before the next general election.

        In Nauru, where democracy and the rule of law are under considerable pressure, the government is agitating for the same grace periods as PNG.

        In Tonga, the legislative term is 4 years, A new government’s grace period is 18 months and there is a further grace period of 6 months before the next general election. Admittedly that is a massive improvement to a system where previously the government depended exclusively on royal confidence.

      • Are those terms for Fiji from the old constitution? In the new constitution I can only find a 6-month waiting period after a PM wins a non-confidence vote against him. Also, non-confidence votes are constructive.

  4. Why do these semi parliamentary democracies have grace periods for governments that can’t be removed through vote of no confidence? Does the German Constructive Vote of No Confidence make this less likely to happen? Is it because government fell too often? What happens if the budget can’t pass, can the government easily call for snap elections at any time? Seems like it would be better to call these non grace periods windows of impeachment as these assembly independent are pseudo parliamentarism.

    • If there are neither requirements of unconstitutional or otherwise inappropriate activity, nor a supermajority requirement, it’s not impeachment.

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