Charter Must Be Amended After Dialogue With Ethnic Rebels: Thein Sein

By Yen Saning 2 June 2014

RANGOON — President Thein Sein has said that amendments to Burma’s Constitution will be needed after a nationwide ceasefire has been signed and the government has conducted political dialogue with country’s ethnic armed groups.

Speaking to the nation in his monthly radio speech, first broadcast Saturday, Thein Sein reaffirmed his support for making amendments to the charter, which was introduced by the former military regime in 2008.

“We must all accept the basic rule that a living, breathing Constitution is always evolving and changes must be made under the right conditions and at the appropriate time in harmony with society’s political, economic, and social needs,” he said, according to an English-language translation of the speech printed by the New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

Thein Sein mentioned the current opposition signature campaign calling for the amendment of Article 436 of the Constitution—which gives the military a veto over amendments—and referred to a parliamentary committee currently mulling proposed amendments, without expressing support or opposition to specific changes.

But the president pointed out that the peace process initiated since his government took power in 2011 will require amendments at a later date. The country’s ethnic minorities, many of which have been fighting insurgencies for more than five decades against the Burmese government, are broadly opposed to the current charter, and want it to be changed to reflect federalist principles.

“Agreements reached during political dialogue, an important aspect of the peace process, will require amendments to the Constitution,” the president said, referring to the talks expected after the ethnic armed groups’ representatives and government negotiators agree upon a nationwide ceasefire.

Thein Sein also played down concerns that the ceasefire talks are taking a long time, saying that delays of six months or so are short compared to the time that peace processes have taken in other countries.

“Everyone involved in the Constitution amendment process will need to be principled and benevolent,” he added.

Sai Saw Than Myint, deputy chairman of Federal Union Party, said he welcomed the president’s indication that political dialogue will result in amendments of the Constitution.

“Peace negotiation talks are in discussion. All ethnic armed group leaders have the same intention, of building a federal union. That requires amendments of the 2008 Constitution anyhow. I understood when the president spoke about this,” he told The Irrawaddy.

He said it appeared the president was open to having input from ethnic groups over amending the Constitution.

“If amendments were done only by the Parliament, without listening and leaving out the voices of the ethnics, that would not be a complete Constitution based on a federal union,” Sai Saw Than Myint said.

The 88 Generation Peace and Open Society and the National League for Democracy (NLD) have started a nationwide campaign to collect signatures in support of amending Article 436, which will run until July 19.

NLD Chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi has addressed concerns that amending Article 436, and possible later removing Article 59(f)—which bars her from the presidency—would only further the aims of the ethnic majority Burman people.

“What do ethnic people want? Genuine democracy. A genuine union based on federalist principles,” she said during a rally in Rangoon on May 17. “Calls for federalism—our NLD has always supported this, even in times when it was seen as a crime by authorities to even speak about federalism.”

However, Myint Myint Wai, a legal advisor to the All Mon Region Democracy Party, said she believed the campaign was more concerned with hurriedly amending the charter in Suu Kyi’s favor ahead of elections in 2015

“The 2014 by-election is quite close. The 2015 election will happen soon. While these elections are important, we’ve got little time. We do not have enough time to work to amend the Constitution,” she said.