Military MPs no show for parliamentary session on Myanmar constitution

A cross-party committee wants to curb the military's power, but the top brass is expected to veto any major reforms
Military MPs no show for parliamentary session on Myanmar constitution

A Feb. 27 rally in the Myanmar commercial hub, Yangon, calling for democratization of the nation's military-drafted constitution. (Photo by Sai Aung Main/AFP)

 

The Myanmar military is set to strongly resist a bid to loosen its ongoing grip on political power, despite an electoral mandate for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

A cross-party committee set up in February has suggested more than 3,700 changes to the current military-drafted charter.

Military MPs, who have strongly objected to the committee since its formation, did not submit any proposals even though some of them are technically included in its membership.

During a parliamentary session on July 30, debate was joined by 17 lawmakers from the NLD as well as the Arakan National Party and the military-linked Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

However, all 78 MPs appointed by the military withdrew from the debate on July 29 without explanation after having earlier registered to participate.

Among proposed amendments is one from the NLD, which despite leading the government is heavily curtailed by the military-manipulated constitution, that seeks to lift an existing ban on Suu Kyi ever becoming the nation's president.

She currently serves as defacto government leader with the titles of 'State Counselor' and foreign minister.

The NLD has also suggested a gradual reduction in the number of military MPs over 15 years as well as abolishing a constitutional stipulation that armed forces personnel control the Ministry of Defense.

Pe Than, a lower house MP for the Arakan National Party (ANP) in ethnically troubled Rakhine State, believes the belated cross-party committee move is unlikely to achieve significant reform.

He added that, to achieve progress, civilian political forces would need to negotiate compromise amendments, before they were put before parliament, as ultimately the military has a power of veto.

Bertil Lintner, a Swedish journalist and long-time observer of Myanmar affairs, said that the military is living up to its promise to defend and preserve its 2008 constitution.

He saw current events more as a political ploy by the NLD to be seen as trying to honor its 2015 election campaign pledge to amend the heavily pro-military constitution.

A previous military regime drafted the 2008 constitution reserving 25 percent of seats in the parliament for its members and giving armed forces personnel control of the key portfolios of home affairs, defense and border security.

Military MPs have the power to veto charter changes, including any that would cut their political power.

The constitution bars Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president on the grounds that she previously married a foreigner, the late Michael Aris.

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Myanmar's military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, has said he is not opposed in principle to changing the constitution, but it would first need to be proved that change is necessary.

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