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Myanmar military blocks Suu Kyi party's bid to clip its wings

Powerful parliamentary bloc vetoes NLD's proposed amendments to army-drafted charter

Myanmar military blocks Suu Kyi party's bid to clip its wings
Military officers who serve as members of Myanmar's parliament arrive for a session at the Assembly of the Union in Naypyidaw, March 10. (Photo: Ye Aung Thu/AFP)

Myanmar’s military has rejected a bid by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party to reduce its role in politics as the Southeast Asian nation transitions toward democracy after decades of military rule.

On the first day of voting on a series of constitutional amendments on March 10, proposals backed by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) failed when military lawmakers vetoed them.

The proposed amendments sought to gradually reduce the number of military lawmakers over a period of 15 years and end the commander-in-chief’s role as the supreme commander of the armed forces and his right to take power during an emergency.

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The NLD proposals were voted down by 633 to 404. Lawmakers will continue to vote on a slew of amendments until March 20.

The previous military regime drafted the 2008 constitution, which impeded the country’s full democratic transition as it reserved 25 percent of seats in parliament for the military and gave them control of the key portfolios of home affairs, defense and border security.

Military MPs also have the power to veto any proposed constitutional changes, especially provisions that would curb their political power. Any changes to the charter require the support of 75 percent of lawmakers, giving the army an effective veto.

Manam Tu Ja, the Catholic chairman of Kachin State People’s Party in conflict-torn Kachin state, said the NLD is less likely to succeed in amending the constitution amid the lack of participation by ethnic groups.

“The NLD is attempting to woo voters ahead of the upcoming elections but it is hard to pass parliament without negotiating with military leaders in advance,” Tu Ja told UCA News.

He said the proposed amendments backed by the NLD do not include the federal system which ethnic groups have been calling for. “It’s a sad thing as ethnic voices are ignored despite the country moving toward a federal democracy,” he said.

Suu Kyi’s party has geared up to amend the military-drafted charter since January 2019 in an effort to fulfill its 2015 election campaign promises of changing the 2008 constitution.

There were fierce debates and tension between the NLD and military MPs during parliamentary sessions last week as the civilian government attempted to reform the constitution and reduce the military’s role in parliament.

The NLD’s move comes as the country prepares to hold a general election this year. It won a landslide victory in the 2015 election and took power in 2016 after formally ending outright military rule for decades.

But the government is facing an uphill battle for amendments to a constitution that also bars 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.

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