UMFCCI keeps rules strict on proxy votes

The Myanmar Times - - Business - ZAY YAR LINN za­yarlinn@mm­ STEVE GIL­MORE s.gil­more@mm­

MYAN­MAR’S top busi­ness body – the Union of Myan­mar Fed­er­a­tion of Cham­bers of Com­merce and In­dus­try – has set­tled a hard-fought in­ter­nal ar­gu­ment over proxy vot­ing, just days be­fore the or­gan­i­sa­tion holds a tri­en­nial elec­tion.

The run-up to what will be the UMFCCI’s sec­ond-ever demo­cratic elec­tion has al­ready seen heated de­bate over sev­eral is­sues, in­clud­ing which mem­bers can vote for which po­si­tions and whether sit­ting pres­i­dent and lo­cal ty­coon U Win Aung should be al­lowed to run for another term.

U Win Aung ruled him­self out of another three years as pres­i­dent last week, telling The Myan­mar Times he would not put him­self for­ward for nom­i­na­tion, which makes him in­el­i­gi­ble for re-elec­tion on Septem­ber 17.

At a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day U Win Aung said the de­ci­sion had been a “very dif­fi­cult one”, but that it was im­por­tant al­low a “new gen­er­a­tion” of busi­ness sec­tor of­fi­cials to take on the top posts.

The de­bate over proxy vot­ing, how­ever, was only pub­li­cally set­tled yes­ter­day. U Win Aung an­nounced at a press con­fer­ence at UMFCCI’s Yan­gon head­quar­ters that the rules around proxy votes would strictly fol­low the con­sti­tu­tion. This stip­u­lates only reg­is­tered com­pa­nies – which have a com­pany mem­ber­ship with a sin­gle vote – are able to use prox­ies, and only pre-spec­i­fied in­di­vid­u­als em­ployed at the firm, such as di­rec­tors or man­agers, can carry out the vote.

A group of in­di­vid­u­als on the UMFCCI’s cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee (CEC), which in­cluded UMFCCI vice pres­i­dent U Zaw Min Win, were un­happy with such a strict in­ter­pre­ta­tion of proxy vot­ing. They said the rules risked pre­vent­ing key com­pany mem­bers that may be ab­sent from Yan­gon or the coun­try for some rea­son from be­ing able to vote.

Vot­ing must be done in per­son at the UMFCCI’s head­quar­ters in Yan­gon.

“You can’t say it’s a free elec­tion if we strictly [in­ter­pret the rules] for prox­ies,” said U Hnin Oo, UMFCCI hon­or­able joint-au­di­tor, in a recent in­ter­view with The Myan­mar Times. He and others felt that com­pany mem­bers should be able to des­ig­nate any­one they like as a proxy.

The ri­val CEC group, which in­cluded U Aye Lwin, one of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s sec­re­taries gen­eral, was strongly op­posed to loos­en­ing the rules. Some com­pa­nies are no longer ac­tive, de­spite be­ing reg­is­tered UMFCCI mem­bers, he said, and the cham­ber had to be very care­ful about al­low­ing such com­pa­nies to pass on their votes through prox­ies.

One anony­mous CEC mem­ber told The Myan­mar Times last week that reach­ing a con­sen­sus on the is­sue was “a night­mare”. But the de­bate is now over and those in favour of the strict con­sti­tu­tional in­ter­pre­ta­tion have won.

U Zaw Min Win said yes­ter­day that although he had pre­vi­ously been con­cerned that some com­pany voters would be ex­cluded, he now felt that there was a risk that al­low­ing free des­ig­na­tion of prox­ies could lead to peo­ple sell­ing votes for money.

U Win Aung said that he thought the con­sti­tu­tion, which is now three years old, should be up­dated – although he did not spec­ify how. He also said that chang­ing the con­sti­tu­tion can only be done by a ma­jor­ity vote at an an­nual gen­eral meet­ing, which takes place in Au­gust.

Just how much the rul­ing on proxy votes will af­fect the elec­tion is un­clear. U Zaw Min Win said that he ex­pected be­tween 25 and 50 proxy votes in the elec­tion, and that perhaps 30 or 35 more would have been pos­si­ble if the rules had been loos­ened.

Only 600 peo­ple are thought to have voted in the last UMFCCI elec­tion in 2013, but Htet Oo Linn, a pub­lic re­la­tions of­fi­cer at the cham­ber, said some 1200 peo­ple had reg­is­tered to vote on Septem­ber 17.

They will elect around one-half of a 140-mem­ber of ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, with some 196 can­di­dates hav­ing put them­selves for­ward.

The other half of the com­mit­tee is made up of au­to­mat­i­cally ap­pointed rep­re­sen­ta­tives of var­i­ous busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tions. The ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee then elects the CEC, which in turn chooses a group of around 20 se­nior man­age­ment com­mit­tee mem­bers – in­clud­ing one pres­i­dent and seven vice pres­i­dents.

Photo: Boothee

UMFCCI chair U Win Aung (left) at a cer­e­mony in March.

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