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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2828

Will Burma Army stay away from parliamentary politics?

By - Zin Linn

Nowadays, the most serious question of all in Burma (Myanmar) probably is the constitutional amendment dilemma. Almost all political parties, civil societies, government institutions including the defense services and law professionals have put forward suggestions to a parliament-appointed panel stating they support changes to the 2008 constitution, lawmakers told the media on 31 January.

“Now it is in the hands of members of parliament, who will decide whether to amend the constitution or not,” Zaw Myint Maung, an MP from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party and who is among the committee’s members, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Zaw Myint Maung has pointed out a controversy arisen in parliament after it was discovered that USDP members from 18 townships in Yangon had sent over 100,000 letters to the committee saying they were against amendments to the key provisions of the 2008 military-drawn constitution.

The letters were against amending provisions which barred Aung San Suu Kyi from making a bid for the presidency in the 2015 general elections. Moreover, those letters support the military’s regular function in politics and block constitutional changes without military endorsement, Zaw Myint Maung said. However, the stance seemed to be a plot run by military’s old school.

Anyhow, the lawmakers said the 109-member charter review committee received more than 28,000 letters of suggestions from the various groups supporting changes to the charter which was drawn by the previous junta that banned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from taking the country’s top job.

The 109-member committee submitted the amendment proposals to the parliament on 31 Jan 2014 in line with the cut-off date set by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on 27 November that it was important for the country’s powerful military chief to support demands for the constitutional amendments, which makes her disqualified for the presidency and reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for military appointed representatives, RFA’s Myanmar Service aired.

Speaking while on a trip to Australia, Nobel laureate of Myanmar told an audience at the Sydney Opera House that the country had still not “successfully taken the path to reform” because the military-written 2008 constitution bars the country from becoming a democracy.

She said that Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing holds majestic influence on the proposed constitutional reforms considering the constitution reserves 25 percent of seats in parliament for the military. Besides, it requires a 75 percent parliament majority for a charter changes following a nationwide referendum.

Recently, Lower House Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann has also announced that the constitution amendment implementation committee should put forward amendment proposals of the 2008 constitution to the Parliament six month prior to general elections in 2015.

Speaking on Feb 18, Thura U Shwe Mann said that the implementation committee for amending the constitution had agreed to analyze matters including elevating the role of the Union Parliament, regularizing the role of the Tatmadaw (Army) to a democratic role and working towards a decentralized system of governance. He also said to work for the prospect of self-determination in order to improve the nationwide peace process, according to the Myanma Freedom Daily.

U Shwe Mann also said additional parts to be discussed including the election system which uses a combination of the presidential and parliamentary system and the section prohibiting the president, vice-presidents and Union ministers from performing party activities after being elected.

According to Daw Dwe Bu, MP from Injanyan constituency in Kachin State, the vision of self-determination and equal rights is the crucial approach for the government to achieve peace with ethnic armed groups.

But, sitting lawmakers should be cautious with their current government. It is distinguished that the current President U Thein Sein Government took office by swearing to defend the 2008 Constitution at any rate. It indicates the current administration also is no different to its forerunners. To defend the current charter means opposing autonomy or self-determination proposed by the ethnic minorities.

The swearword has a meaning of no intention of power-sharing with the respective state and divisional administrations under genuine federalism. In fact, federalism is no other than an idea of decentralization of the central government's supremacy.

Havard Kleppa, from the Norway-based Oslo Center, has urged the U Thein Sein Government to amend the constitution to ensure that hundred percent of the members of Parliament (MPs) representing the government are elected by the public.

During a discussion on “Democracy and Transition” held at the office of 88 Generation Peace and Open Society on Feb 18, Havard Kleppa said that the aspect of the constitution which says 25 percent of the military appointed MPs is the most important part to be amended, the Myanma Freedom Daily reported.

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on 13 September in Budapest that her country "cannot be a democratic nation as long as the (present) constitution is in effect", according to AFP News on Sep 14, 2013.

In a speech on 4 January 2014 marking the 66th Independence Day, Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi urged both the government and the military to play significant roles in the process of amending the constitution, as said by the DVB news.

Speaking at the National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Rangoon, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that Tatmadaw (armed forces) should not be undecided about its role of amending the constitution as it has a key part to play in the process.

So far, no one knows whether the incumbent government has sincere intention to change the unfair charter so as to make a comprehensive political settlement en route for a genuine democracy. If the government does not attempt to amend the constitution then people will say that the army-backed government of Burma is not interested in genuine democracy.

- Asian Tribune -

Will Burma Army stay away from parliamentary politics?
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