Burma’s Top Leaders Divided Over Constitutional Reform

President Thein Sein speaks in Parliament on March 26 to mark the third anniversary of his government’s inauguration. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burma’s top leaders are clarifying their stances on constitutional reform, with obvious rifts forming between the president and the army chief on the one hand, and the speaker of the legislature on the other.

In a speech to mark the third anniversary of his government’s inauguration, President Thein Sein told Parliament on March 26 that the amendment process must proceed according to the current 2008 charter, which effectively gives the military a veto over any proposed changes.

One day later, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, said at the Armed Forces Day parade that Parliament must follow Chapter 12 of the current Constitution, which holds that constitutional reform can only take place with support of more than 75 percent of lawmakers. Twenty-five percent of seats in the legislature belong to military-appointed representatives.

The speeches of the president and the army chief stand in contrast with the views of Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, who has urged the parliamentary committee in charge of constitutional reform to focus on amending Chapter 12. The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party and the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society are also campaigning against the military’s veto over amendments.

Phyo Min Thein, an NLD member of Parliament, said the opposing viewpoints were obvious. “If they have disagreements, they should bring them to the table at the council meeting,” he recommended, referring to the National Defense and Security Council, an 11-member council that includes Thein Sein, Shwe Mann and Min Aung Hlaing.

But according to military sources close to the council, opinions are so divided that Burma’s top leaders have been unable to find common ground. Last year, Shwe Mann requested weekly council meetings, the military sources say, but as disagreements have continued over constitutional reform and other issues, the meetings have been much more sporadic.

Ye Htut, the presidential spokesman, denies that council meetings are no longer regular. “They even had it last week,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Over the past month, protests have increased across the country in support of constitutional reform, with hundreds and sometimes several thousand demonstrators participating.

Phone Myint Aung, a member of Parliament from the New National Democracy Party, said the commander-in-chief would likely have the last word.

“In his speech, he said the army would not give up its position which is permitted in the Constitution,” the lawmaker told The Irrawaddy. “So even though discussions are ongoing in the council about fixing the charter, it’s likely that he will have the final say.”

More than half of the 11-member council was appointed by military members of Parliament, including one of the country’s two vice presidents, the commander-in-chief and his deputy, and the ministers of defense, home affairs and border affairs.

4 Responses to Burma’s Top Leaders Divided Over Constitutional Reform

  1. Thein Sein is not confident to lead a real democratic nation. He needs Min Aung Hlaing who is dictator who owns 25% of seats of Hlutdaw. If Thein Sein believes in his 2008 Nargis constitution, he is not a reformer but defender of Than Shwe and his family. Thein Sein and Min Aung Hlaing are the ones who need to be assassinated since they betrayed the nation and the citizens in building genuine democratic Union of Myanmar. If they want to keep 2008 Nargis constitution un-amended, there is no way Myanmar will see the real democratic society. So, put bullets in their heads for the betterment of 60 million people. It is absolutely unacceptable that they are unwilling to fix the Nargis constitution. We do not need these two persons. The nation does not need these two traitors.

  2. present constitution must make amendment, other wise there is no way to make progress of the country and democracy. The said constitution is dictatorial, no rule of law and support violence in various places in the country. Especially no freedom for all. Country leading to back ward instead of going forward due to state power is too much control by military. Let us be generous not small heart. High thinking and high living is the only way out for Burma ( Myanmar ) to participate with global community. Leave aside the differences, and must know religion is opium of the peoples. King Anawratha established Htay-rah-wa-dah for his benefits to rule the country for ever, but destroyed some body ( Mon ) culture and brought a kind of Buddhist culture which warship Ma-htay ( aged peoples ) just to make warship to him, in fact Buddah never taught such kind of warship to him, but taught to do good things for the sake of country and mankind.

  3. This is the faux democracy run by petty tyrants. Slowly but surely they are unveiling the painful realities of this so called new reformed Burma.

  4. Every thing went as expected.
    The President did his best. Short of immediate result, he retains hope and indicate a new culture of highest level discussion.
    The Speaker also demonstrated controlled compassion for Myanmar’s future.
    We are not sure what military chief of staff feels inside, about constitutional change. We are also not sure who is the real military chief of staff and that the apparent one may be serving as a spokesperson. They all live in the same small area [Naypyidaw] and do not know who control the local security.
    Whatever, Myanmar has ordinary people running the place. Only the opposition has some exceptional personalities.
    We have three choices to pursue.
    None is ideal

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