State and Region Parliaments have powers to enact legislation on municipal matters under section 188 of Myanmar’s 2008 constitution. In Myanmar, where Township Municipal Affairs Committees (TMAC) (also referred to as Sipin Committees) act as the third layer of government, this is a great opportunity to use this legislative power effectively in order to have more representative and accountable peoples’ representatives at the local level.
Although some changes within electoral frameworks have been made at the local level, current municipal election laws often limit people’s ability to participate fully. For instance, in states and regions - except for the Yangon City Development Committee election (YCDC elections – only the head of household retains the right to vote. This disenfranchises a great deal of the population and restricts the participation of women youth, as most of the household leaders are men. In addition, the fact that candidates must be at least 25 years old also limits youth participation.
In order to provide a place to discuss key questions and challenges relating to local governance in Myanmar, with a focus on strengthening electoral frameworks, the EU funded STEP Democracy programme – through Democracy Reporting International (DRI) and the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy (DIPD) – collaborated with the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) to co-organize a national dialogue forum.
The forum provided stakeholders from different parts of the country with the opportunity to learn from each other, better understand the legislative and regulatory changes that have taken place around the country since the establishment of the TMAC and the shift of the General Administration Department (GAD) to civilian rule in late 2018.
Over 100 participants from political parties, regional MPs and CSOs across the country discussed the need to strengthen the way Sipin Committees are elected to make township governance more responsive to people’s needs and priorities.
‘Sipin Committees are the most direct interface between citizens and the Government. They should be freely elected by universal suffrage,’ said Mya Nandar Thin, Executive Director from the new Myanmar Foundation.
In a post-event survey, around 93% of participants strongly agreed that public consultations on the formation of local governments is needed in Myanmar. 87% of participants noted that they consider local elections crucial for Myanmar’s transition process and 71% of participants would like to see local elections in all townships in the country.
An online database summarizing election provisions of all Development Affairs Organizations laws across the country, will be published in the near future and will be the basis for further dialogue events.