No Constitutional Amendments Before Election: Shwe Mann

By Yen Saning 18 November 2014

RANGOON — Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann has nixed hopes for swift reforms to controversial electoral laws, telling a press conference on Tuesday that any changes to the military-drafted 2008 Constitution can only be enacted after next year’s general election.

The comments from the Union Solidarity and Development Party representative and potential presidential contender came a day after most military lawmakers rejected amending Articles 59(f) and 436 of the Constitution, which bar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting the presidency and give the military a veto over constitutional amendments.

“We will finalize [constitutional debates] on November 25,” Shwe Mann said. “The draft laws submitted by Union Parliament will be decided and approved next week in parliament.”

“Some changes will need a referendum, which will be held in May 2015. Where this results in amending the Constitution, they will be approved after the 2015 election.”

The Burmese Constitution has onerous barriers to change. An amendment must have the support of more than 75 percent of both houses of Parliament, giving the military, with a reserved allocation of 25 percent of all parliamentary seats, an effective veto over any proposal.

Many provisions of the Constitution, including Articles 59(f) and Article 436, require any accepted proposal to then be put to a nationwide referendum, with the amendment carried if it receives a yes vote from more than half of the eligible voter population.

Chapter 12 of the Constitution, which details the process for the proposal and adoption of constitutional amendments, does not specify a timeframe for the Parliament to ratify successful amendments.

Khu Oo Reh, general secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council, told The Irrawaddy that delaying constitutional amendments until 2016 will undermine the integrity of the next election.

“If none of articles of the 2008 Constitution can be amended and the 2015 election is held based on the current Constitution, it will be very hard to expect that the election will be a free and fair one,” he said.

Shwe Mann has defended the decision by stressing the need for administrative continuity, arguing that the proximity of the next election precludes any radical changes to electoral laws or the structure of government administration.

“It’s impossible… the current administrative landscape will be changed if amendments are enacted during this [parliamentary] term,” he said.

Min Thu, a Lower House lawmaker for the National League for Democracy, said that he agrees in principle that any proposals for constitutional amendments can only be practically implemented after the next election.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy, Min Thu stated his belief that Article 59(f) can still be repealed in the first parliamentary session following the election, subject to a successful passage through parliament and approval in a national plebiscite, allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to assume the presidency after 2015.

Additional reporting by Saw Yan Naing and Kyaw Myo Htun