Burma Parliament May Review Constitution

Aung San Suu Kyi, second from left, walks up the steps to Burma’s Parliament with fellow National League for Democracy MPs on Jan. 16, 2013. (Photo: Yeni / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Lawmakers in Burma say Parliament may agree this week to establish a commission that would consider amending the country’s 2008 pro-military constitution, which critics charge is undemocratic.

A lawmaker from opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, Phyo Min Thein, says the two houses of Parliament might agree Wednesday to form the commission.

The NLD has long said that the Constitution is undemocratic because of provisions that allow the military to control a substantial percentage of parliamentary seats and disqualify Suu Kyi from running for the presidency.

However, the proposal to establish the commission comes from President Thein Sein’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. Some members of the party say they want to change provisions concerning state governments to allow ethnic minorities increased self-rule.

Conflict with ethnic minorities seeking greater autonomy has bedeviled Burma since it obtained independence from Britain in 1948, and has often involved armed rebellions.

If Parliament votes to establish the body, its first task will be to determine if the Constitution should be amended.

The Constitution was basically dictated by the former military government in which Thein Sein served as prime minister, and the USDP was set up largely to serve the military’s interests.

Since coming to office in 2011, Thein Sein has instituted a series of significant political and economic reforms after almost five decades of repressive army rule. A major achievement was convincing Suu Kyi’s party to rejoin the electoral process, and it won 43 of 44 seats it contested in by-elections last year.

While USDP members says a constitutional review is not aimed at meeting Suu Kyi’s demands, the process sends a signal that the government party is flexible and perhaps willing to make some sort of deal with her party before the 2015 general election.

Aye Mauk, a USDP lawmaker, said a constitution review committee would deal with chapters regarding ethnic minorities, and other political issues would likely also be considered.

“Some modifications of the constitution have to be made after peace talks with ethnic groups and issues regarding autonomy in state and region levels will be considered during the review process,” he said. One provision that might be changed is the president’s prerogative to appoint state-level chief ministers. Many border areas dominated by ethnic minorities would like to elect their own.

Phyo Min Thein suggested the ruling party proposal was meant to reward Suu Kyi for her moderate position in a dispute over a copper mine. Suu Kyi headed a committee that recommended that operations at the Letpadaung copper mine in northwestern Burma be allowed to continue to honor the joint venture contract with neighboring China and reassure potential foreign investors.

Residents near the mine had mounted strong protests against it, and said they were greatly disappointed that Suu Kyi failed to support their demands that the mine stop operating because of environmental damage.

3 Responses to Burma Parliament May Review Constitution

  1. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the Burma will live as one. (hat tip John Lennon)

  2. John Lennon had visioned it long ago.
    You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the Burma will live as one.
    Autonomy of the ethnic groups is just the autonomy to the Union of Myanmar, we are un separable, respect you is respect me, promote your rights is promote my rights.
    Recent peace talks of the Government and KIA in China found the common ground of KIA and the Government, as some of their common views and consents were against by the Chinese which almost turn the China the foe. Remember we are just Myanmar.

  3. I must admit that , review of constitution( and for that matter, likelihood of amendment too) surfaced earlier than expected. Ironically, it makes sincerity of the move questionable. Are they ( USDP, who sponsor the move) ready to make the constitution genuinely democratic? What about 25% military presence? Will the figure going to be tailed off? Is kar-lon – Security council stepping down from higher-than-the-president position? Will the most unique constitutional military take-over be abolished? These are the issues that should not be left unnoticed apart from the other major issue of genuine self-determination in ethnic areas. Oh! Excuse me. I nearly forget the qualifications of president and vice-presidents…

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