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Parliament go-ahead for constitutional review

Country's charter due for a shake-up

  • Daniel Wynn, Yangon
  • Myanmar
  • March 20, 2013
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Myanmar’s parliament agreed on Wednesday to form a committee to review the country’s controversial 2008 constitution. The move has been hailed by critics who have long condemned it as being undemocratic and hastily ratified under pressure by the former ruling junta.

The proposal for the committee was tabled on Friday by parliamentarians from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and approved by both houses of parliament on Wednesday morning.

The committee will comprise “law experts and intellectuals” along with parliamentarians, according to the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar, which added that the constitution needed to conform “with the current situation of the country due to [the] reforming process.”

Myanmar’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD Party welcomed the announcement, with one MP saying the party had vigorously called for changing “undemocratic elements” of the constitution. It has been claimed that these elements were endorsed in a rigged referendum, held in the immediate aftermath of the devastating Cyclone Nargis, which struck the country in 2008.

Under the current constitution, NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi is prohibited from standing for president in the forthcoming general elections in 2015, which the NLD is heavily favored to win.

The current charter also reserves 25 percent of all parliamentary seats for military personnel and requires a more than 75 percent majority to approve amendments.

“We warmly welcome the effort to review the constitution,” said NLD parliamentarian Dr Zaw Myint Maung.

“Our party has long called for constitutional changes and the fact that this was initiated by the USDP party rather than by the NLD shows a stronger national reconciliation process going on in our country.”

There has been no word on what parts of the constitution might be amended following the committee’s review, but senior NLD leader Win Tin said any change must be significant and aim to bring greater rights for the country’s ethnic minorities while ending automatic representation of the military in parliament.

“We cannot make just slight changes, which will open the door for Aung San Suu Kyi’s presidency, but rather critical changes … for the good of the public,” he said.

Suu Kyi, chairman of the NLD and herself a lawmaker, has said any amendment to the constitution should not be based on whether she decides to run for the presidency.

One parliamentarian who asked not to be named suggested that the decision to allow the committee was linked to her recent support for military interests in a controversial copper mine in central Myanmar.

A commission headed by Suu Kyi last week recommended that the project, jointly operated with a Chinese firm, should continue despite local and violent protests by area villagers.

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