Myanmar green lights panel to amend constitution

But military lawmakers object to having their undemocratic constitution changed
Myanmar green lights panel to amend constitution

A file image of Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi during a ceremony in Naypyidaw on Oct. 18, 2018. (Photo by Thet Aung/AFP)

Myanmar’s parliament — dominated by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) — has voted to create a joint committee with the aim of amending the country’s military-drafted constitution.

Despite objections from military lawmakers, a proposal to form the committee to implement steps towards charter change passed in the union parliament with 414 out of the 621 MPs voting in favor on Feb. 6.

Voting against the proposal were 191 MPs including 168 appointed military and others from the military-linked Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Six MPs abstained from voting.

A day before the vote, military MPs refused to join a parliamentary debate about the proposal.

Last week, senior military lawmaker Brig. Gen. Maung Maung told reporters that the NLD’s move was opposed by military MPs because it is not in line with parliamentary procedures. 

Urgent proposal

Aung Kyi Nyunt, an upper house MP from the NLD, submitted an urgent proposal for the union parliament on Jan. 29 to form a joint committee of lawmakers to implement changes to the constitution.

He said provisions in the 2008 constitution are not in line with democratic norms and would impede the implementation of a genuinely democratic federal union.

House speaker T. Khun Myat has said the joint committee will be comprised of both military and civilian MPs who need to formulate the terms and role of the committee.

Tun Tun Hein, deputy chair of the lower house, will chair the committee and the first meeting which will discuss in details of how MPs will be chosen on a proportional basis was held Feb. 8.

Yanghee Lee, a special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar for the U.N., hailed the move as “a positive development” that will aid Myanmar “to truly transition to democracy.”

Lee encouraged the committee to deliver accordingly as there is popular support for constitutional reform, she said in a statement on Feb. 7. 

Why change sought

The previous ruling military regime drafted the 2008 constitution which impeded the country’s full democratic transition due to how it reserves 25 percent of seats in the parliaments for the military and gives them control of the key portfolios of home affairs, defense and border security.

Military MPs also have the power to veto any proposed charter changes, especially provisions that would curb their political power.

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The constitution also bars Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president because she married a foreigner. However, she has led the country via the specially created role of state counselor and is also foreign minister.

“To gain peace, we need a state constitution which is accepted by all people,” Suu Kyi said during a Shan State day celebration in Taunggyi on Feb. 7.

Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing has said he is not opposed in principle to changing the charter but it must be proved that change is necessary.

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