While Myanmar has held successful national elections in 2015 and 2017, municipal elections lag far behind. For example, the city of Yangon has yet to hold fully democratic elections and its electoral legal framework has not been updated since the colonial period. In this context, the workshop and drafting session on municipal electoral reform (26-27 October) held by STEP Democracy partner International IDEA as part of the EU-funded STEP Democracy project, represents a landmark in municipal electoral reform.
The two-day event was held in conjunction with the Chief Minister of Yangon Region, U Phyo Min Thein, the Yangon Regional Parliament, and Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) officials, providing drafters the chance to share their recommendations and concerns regarding the current system, as well as to begin the electoral reform drafting process.
To remind participants of key principles to keep in mind throughout the drafting process, International IDEA delivered presentations on topics including: campaign finance, voter lists, and candidacy eligibility. Frank McLoughlin (Programme Officer) and Saket Ambarkhane (Programme Officer) addressed the existing academic literature and international standards on these topics. Both stressed the importance of transparent and collaborative stakeholder consultation in electoral reform and the need for electoral systems appropriate to local contexts.
Over the course of the workshop, participants debated key issues at stake in the reform process, such as ways to encourage voter turnout and participation from historically marginalized groups, such as women and ethnic minority groups. One of the major decisions from this workshop was a commitment by drafters to shift voter eligibility from one vote per household to universal suffrage. The group left the workshop with valuable insights on best practices in electoral management and ideas on how to make Yangon’s municipal election system more democratic and inclusive. Following this event and throughout the remainder of the municipal reform process, IDEA and its STEP partners will continue to provide support to the YCDC by holding follow-up consultations and workshops.