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Politics

Burma’s Ruling Party Says Constitutional Change Could Mean ‘Serious Danger’

Burma’s ruling party says the state and its people will be in “serious danger and face consequences beyond expectation” if lawmakers scrap the existing Constitution.


RANGOON — Burma’s ruling party says the state and its people will be in “serious danger and face consequences beyond expectation” if lawmakers scrap and rewrite the existing Constitution.

“People will suffer bad consequences if the 2008 Constitution is abolished and redrawn,” the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) said in a statement on Saturday.

The military-backed party did not elaborate on the warning. Party officials, including vice chairman Htay Oo, were not available for comment.

The USDP statement came one week after Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), said it would collaborate with ethnic parties to seek public opinion on the question of whether to amend or totally scrap and rewrite the Constitution.

The controversial charter was written by the former military regime and passed in a referendum in 2008 that was widely seen as a sham. It allows for amendments but does not include any statements about redrawing a new document.

Ethnic political parties and rebel groups that have reached ceasefire agreements with the central government have called in recent months for an opportunity to write a new Constitution, which they say would be faster and easier than separate amendments.

The NLD has urged for amendments to improve rule of law and encourage national reconciliation. Party spokesman Nyan Win said the NLD recognized the importance of considering whether the public preferred amendments or an entirely new charter, but added that personally he believed scrapping the current Constitution would be “dangerous.”

“There is no provision in the Constitution that allows us to have a new one,” he told The Irrawaddy. “It could lead to a confrontation with the military.”

The NLD considers the current Constitution undemocratic because it gives the military 25 percent of Parliamentary seats and makes NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi ineligible for president. Ethnic minority parties oppose a provision in the Constitution that require chief ministers in their regions to be appointed by the central government.

The Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) is among 12 ethnic political parties that the NLD has met with recently to discuss constitutional reform. The ALD favors rewriting a new charter, although the party’s president, Aye Tha Aung, said he was not completely opposed to amendments, assuming they were thorough enough.

“If you want to amend the Constitution, change the whole thing—don’t stick only to the point you want to fix” he told The Irrawaddy.

“Today everyone is talking about federalism, but there are provisions that block it. To stop civil war, ethnic people need a chance to work out their destiny as they choose in their native land. To cover all those points, as far as I’m concerned, it would be quite difficult [through amendments]. Having a new one would be easier and faster.”

The USDP has drawn criticism from some observers for issuing its warning over the weekend about negative consequences to constitutional reform.

“The announcement is politically inappropriate,” said Dr. Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst and commentator on Burmese political affairs. He said the government should allow the legislature to operate according to its motto: “The people’s voice is Parliament’s voice, and the people’s wish is Parliament’s wish.”

“The USDP shouldn’t lecture us,” he added. “It’s like they are threatening us. They have no right to do this, it’s very undemocratic.”

Last week, Parliament’s Constitution Review Joint Committee welcomed suggestions from a wide range of stakeholders to review or amend the 2008 Constitution.

Formed in July and chaired by the deputy speaker of the Union Parliament, the 109-member committee is made up of MPs from the Lower House and the Upper House, including military representatives. It set a Nov. 15 deadline to receive public opinion about Constitutional reform.

Meanwhile, the NLD is preparing to conduct a public opinion poll on the same question.

“We have seven groups to travel around the whole country next week for the poll,” Nyan Win said, adding that the groups would explain how the 2008 document was drafted in an undemocratic way. “We will send the people’s input to the Constitution Review Joint Committee by Nov. 15.”

Yan Myo Thein suggested that instead of having an opinion poll, the NLD should push Parliament to hold a referendum on the matter.

“Given the time the NLD has to conduct the poll, I wonder what percentage of the population they can cover,” he said. “The NLD should take a bolder step than an opinion poll. A referendum is the only answer if you want to achieve the people’s genuine desire.”