Is Constitutional Review an Attempt to Bolster Shwe Mann’s Position?

Aung San Suu Kyi meets with Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann in Naypyidaw in December 2011, prior to winning a seat in Parliament in April 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

RANGOON — Politicians and analysts have welcomed the abrupt decision to establish a committee to review the much-criticized 2008 Constitution, amid speculation that it could help bolster the position of Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann.

Few expected the sudden announcement in Parliament last Friday that a committee of law experts and intellectuals would be formed to review the Constitution to bring it in line with the broader reform process.

Many have speculated that the review will focus on allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to stand for president—or at least vice-president—following the 2015 elections. She is currently barred on the grounds that she has foreign children.

But others believe it could be part of a deal to further the ambitions of Shwe Mann, speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, who is tipped to take over as chairman of the ruling, military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

The review was proposed by Aye Myint and Thein Zaw, senior members of the USDP. They are considered close confidantes of the parliamentary speaker.

“We welcome the review—no one likes the 2008 Constitution,” said Khin Maung Swe, president of the National Democratic Force, a party formed in 2010 after breaking away from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. “But I think this might be an attempt to help Shwe Mann become president in 2015. Politics is very tricky and nothing should be taken for granted.”

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Irrawaddy last week that he believed some form of back-room agreement has been reached between Suu Kyi and Shwe Mann.

“They feel they can work together—they have some common ground,” said the diplomat. “He is one of the people who has changed the most, and they have a shared interest in strengthening Parliament. She sees it as key to establishing democracy, and he sees it as a potential power base.”

Shwe Mann is a former general who was once labeled “Burma’s dictator-in-waiting” in a US diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks. He has become an unlikely but staunch supporter of democratic reform in the past two years, and is thought to have designs on the presidency.

The need to alter the Constitution has been a constant refrain of opposition groups in Burma since the reform process began, particularly clauses that reserve 25 percent of seats in Parliament for the military, and prevent Suu Kyi from becoming president on the grounds she has foreign children.

“Judging by what has happened in this country in the past two years, anything is possible, so I am no longer surprised by these events,” said Aung Naing Oo, of the Myanmar Peace Center. “Some of the changes have been nothing less than a miracle. Parliament has been very dynamic and is doing its job.”

The question now is how far the review will go in challenging the political grip of the military.

“Compromising with the Burmese generals is the key for success,” said Aung Naing Oo. “Ultimately what we all want is civilian democratic governance, but you can’t leapfrog to democracy overnight. As long we get key aspects like free and fair elections and respect for human rights, we should be happy.”

11 Responses to Is Constitutional Review an Attempt to Bolster Shwe Mann’s Position?

  1. The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government. Power to the people, not the gangster generals!

  2. Commitment and determination must do the job. Just to review the constitution? There are so many holes there. Even amendment may not make this nargis constitution a good one.

  3. People with immediate family members who hold foreign citizenship must not hold high office. They would be susceptible to extortion or foreign influence through those family members. It is all about national security. Once the constitution is amended to allow this, who knows what will happen in the future. One has to look beyond the horizon to wonder if a future president of MM would heed orders from Mumbai, Beijing, Bangkok or even from DC.

  4. Why Shwe Mann? ASSK is pivotal in luring foreign investments and good for the country. Part of the junta strategy.

  5. After the amendment ( if any ) of 2008 constitution, the next to amend is 1982 citizenship law. The nature of 2008 constitution and 1982 citizenship law is the same. Both are unjust.

  6. I absolutely agree with your views, Mr. Aung Naing Oo. It is very regretful that some dont see the things as you do.

  7. Mr maung naing, 2008 constitution and 1982 citizenship law have difference. 2008 constitution is how to manage the Burma political situation which must base on the people of Burma have authority over them. The 1982 citizenship law is how to protect foreign infiltration or protection against neighboring country population spill over. If Burma give this Bangladesh population spill over, whether Burma can bear over 100 million people from Bangladesh and Burmese people become minority of the country in their home land?.

  8. If one sees the way Myanmar – here Rakhine ( of course also illegal Bengalis ) understand Democracyin mid 2012 , and when we see the happenings in Meikthila just now than one might think that Myanmar need first an amendment on the way many Myanmar people treat each other, people miss using the law by them self and are far away from what Aung San Su Kyi could and want to bring to the people. One might think that a very well, honest and fair with Rule of Law Dictatorship would be better than a Democratic Chaos where Rakhine people let them self lead to last year and where Burmese are tried to push in now and maybe more in future.

  9. Suggestion for many Myanmar people. A Singapore democracy with strict rules and law enforcement and just a little bit of peoples and press rights first,- learn about the idea first and than you get it but now to change constitution and citizenship will clearly be to early for many Myanmar to work with they should learn how to live together in peace and not blaming always the other side first. Far to early for President Thein Seins as well ASSK vision Myanmar needs a strong leader with strong and quick background but a good one. Or are the Swan Archien here again, what happened to them and their ranks , did for some a great job in 2007 September…..Pity for the normal lovely and usually peaceful Myanmar if they step into the trap again,– someone told Chief of Staff to be ready for all , some weeks ago..

    • Precisely what the generals are after, Oliver. Nominal democracy and filthy lucre. If only they could pull off what the Chinese did. No democratization, just shedloads of dollars and euros.

      Oh, the Swan Arrshin are in the background all right. Ever ready like the battery included in plan B. Has our great opposition leader got one? Or is she just too clever by half banking on her fading charisma and the innate goodwill or naivety of the generals?

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