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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1643

Burma has a deadly political fever

By – Zin Linn

Burma or Myanmar has a serious political sickness in the name of ‘constitution change’ that spread throughout the country especially in the ethnic constituencies.

At the same time, people are worried about for rigid clauses that help military elites keep going above the law. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel laureate and chairperson of the National League for Democracy, said at a press conference following a three-day (8-10 May, 2013) workshop that the strictest restrictions that make the 2008 constitution unchangeable must be removed before any constitutional amendment could succeed.

Section 435 of the 2008 Constitution says that if 20 percent of the total number of the Union Parliament representatives submits a Bill to amend the Constitution, it shall be considered by the Union Parliament. Section 436 states that the constitution can only be amended with the prior approval of more than 75 percent of all the representatives of the Union Parliament, followed by a nationwide referendum.

So it is understandable that the military-made constitution seems unchangeable, especially if it seeks to remove unelected army representatives from the legislative body.

As mentioned in the media news, the amendment appilication was put forward as an important issue to the Lower House by Thura Aye Myint, vice chairman of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and it was approved without any difference of opinion. Military appointed parliamentarians also voted in favor of the proposal.

“I believe that the 2008 Constitution now requires reviewing according to the current situation of the country though it was written with a good cause for the future of our country,” Thura Aye Myint said at the parliament.

“A committee or commission will be formed comprising of law experts, academics and professionals,” he added.

The 15-chapter 2008-Constitution, drafted in line with the core principles laid down by the previous junta, was promulgated in May 2008 after a controversial public referendum.

Under existing constitution, a general election was held on 7 November 2010 and the USDP won majority of the parliamentary seats. The USDP Chairman U Thein Sein has been elected as president of the new quasi-civilian government and run the office in March 2011.

Since taking office in March 2011, President U Thein Sein has introduced a series of remarkable political and economic reforms after almost five decades of authoritarian rule by military dictatorship. A major reform was giving political space for Suu Kyi's party so as to take part in the by-electoral process in April 2012 through which the NLD won 43 of 44 seats last year.

Even though USDP’s MPs submitted a constitutional amendment, it is not predictable to meet Suu Kyi's dream for presidency; the presentation sends a warning sign that the government party is pragmatic and most likely willing to deal with hot ethnic bids before the 2015 general election.

Myanmar’s current Constitution, approved in a May 2008 referendum, is flooded with misleading principles. It says the country must be united under one military command. To bring the ethnic groups in line with this term, the previous military regime has ordered all armed rebel groups to become part of Burma’s border guard force ahead of the 2010 election.

The Union Parliament of Myanmar has agreed a proposal shaping 109-member Joint Committee to Review the 2008 Constitution on 25 July with the purpose of making necessary changes.

The committee was set up with the deputy speaker of the Union Parliament as chairman along with the deputy speaker of the Lower House and the deputy speaker of the Upper House as vice chairman. The committee was formed with members of parliament, members of political parties, military MPs and individuals.

However, the ruling USDP party holds 52 seats and military representatives hold 25 seats in the 109-member committee, while 7 members of the opposition NLD take part with 25 members from small ethnic parties. The formation of the committee seems unbalanced since there are 77 pro-military members in the 109-member Joint Committee.

As a result, there is widespread expectation that the committee will defend the undemocratic articles of the 2008 Constitution. According to the common people’s understanding, the existing constitution protects the military and its business empire together with the everlasting authorized power.

The political fixture seems try to find solution to the burning constitution problem on the agenda for the 2015 general election. Parliamentarians from Myanmar’s ruling party on March 15 took the first step towards the possible amendment of the constitution which was drawn up under the previous military junta and intentionally vetoes the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.

The constitution says that candidates whose spouses or offspring are citizens of a foreign country shall not run in the presidential and vice-presidential selection. As Suu Kyi’s late husband Michael Aris and their two adult sons are British, people can easily see such clauses are targeted at the opposition leader.

In addition, ethnic minorities have been suffering through decades of vicious circle under military operations in the name of national unity. Attacks on these rural civilians continue on a regular basis, recently in Kachin and Shan states. There is a constant demand from Burma’s ethnic groups to enjoy equal political, social and economic rights. The Constitution needs to guarantee the rights of autonomy and of equal representation for every ethnic group in the legislative body.

On 14 November, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi told a European Union business forum that investors should not ignore the country’s political challenges as it heads towards crucial 2015 elections.

The Nobel laureate said constitutional change was very important for the economic improvement of the country, as Myanmar opens its key regional developing market after decades of military rule.

“Anybody that encourages business or investment or any other activity in Burma while at the same time totally ignoring the need to amend the constitution is not being pragmatic,” Aung San Suu Kyi said, using the country’s former name, according to AFP News.

The NLD has been determined to work together with the ethnic parties to get an idea of public opinion on the correction of the constitution. It also said that the results of its findings will be submitted to the legislative body.

The NLD is once again using its canvassing strategies as exercised in the by-election in April last year, with a firm focus on the restoration of the rule of law, constitutional amendments where the 2008 Constitution does not meet the standard of democracy, especially in completion of equal-shared democracy, lack of creation of equal opportunity for all citizens, and to make changes to the terms that prevent a free and fair election in 2015.

People do not fail to remember that the current constitution come into view in the course of a farce referendum in May 2008, irreverently held just after the destructive Nargis cyclone that caused more than 138,000 deaths and left millions homeless.

The bill was ratified by the parliament in January 2011. The biggest flaw in the constitution is that 25 percent of the seats in the parliament are set aside for soldiers who are basically appointed to the legislative body by the commander-in-chief of the military.

Unless this is amended, it is easier said than done to create a true democratic change in Myanmar. Situation may even force the country to suffer a harmful political sickness.

According to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s explanations, it is a must to amend the existing constitution prior to 2015 General Elections so as to become free and fair polls. Even though 2015 ballot may be free, it will not be fair under the current undemocratic 2008 Constitution, the Nobel laureate said.

- Asian Tribune -

Though USDP’s MPs submitted a constitutional amendment, it is not predictable to meet Suu Kyi's dream for presidency;
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