NLD, 88 Generation to Hold Rallies, Nationwide Campaign for Constitutional Reform

By Yen Saning 5 May 2014

RANGOON — The popular leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Ko Naing, will jointly address large rallies in Rangoon and Mandalay this month to call on the Burmese public to back efforts to reform the Constitution, the organizations announced.

The rallies signal the start of a large, nationwide push by Suu Kyi and the 88 Generation activists to force the ruling party and the military into accepting amendments to the undemocratic charter, which concentrates power with the army and blocks the NLD leader from the presidency.

NLD central executive committee member Nan Khin Htwe Myint told The Irrawaddy on Monday that a nationwide campaign will kick off in the third week of May and include public rallies in Rangoon and Mandalay on May 17 and 18, respectively.

“We will explain to the public, amendments of Article 436 of the Constitution, which is important to [allow for] changes to the whole Constitution,” Nan Khin Htwe Myint said.

Ant Bwe Kyaw, a spokesperson for the 88 Generation activists, said the organizations were seeking a venue and government permission for the rallies in Rangoon and Mandalay. “Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Ko Naing will be the main speakers of public talks,” he said. “They will speak together on the same days.”

In a statement released Monday, the NLD said it formed a central joint committee with the 88 Generation activists to organize public rallies across the nation and start a large campaign to petition the public for support for constitutional reform.

The petition campaign will be organized from the NLD’s offices in states and divisions across the country.

The committee comprises six members of the NLD—Win Htain, Nyan Win, Ohn Kyaing, Win Myint, Han Thar Myint, Tun Tun Hein—and five members of the 88 Generation activist, Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Mya Aye, Jimmy and Pyone Cho, the statement said.

“We have discussed preparations for holding public talks on amending Article 436 of the Constitution and gathering public signatures,” Ant Bwe Kyaw said.

Last year, Suu Kyi began public efforts to advocate for constitutional reforms and held talks with the ruling Union Development and Solidarity Party (USP), which contains mostly former junta generals.

The USDP has, however, dragged its feet on any moves toward reforms, while the military has indicated that it is intent on keeping its political privileges.

Since November, Suu Kyi has become increasingly vocal on the issue, raising the issue in speeches and teaming up with the 88 Generation activists in February this year. Small rallies calling for constitutional reform have been held a number of towns and cities in recent months.

Nan Khin Htwe Myint said the NLD and the 88 Generation activists—popular organizations which have been leading the struggle for democracy in Burma for decades—expect to mobilize widespread public support for constitutional reforms.

“We expect that at least 75 percent will support us. But, as we cannot have much time to explain it to the public, they might not all sign [the petition],” she said.

Asked if she expected the ruling party and government to oppose the nationwide campaign, Nan Khin Htwe Myint said, “It is not that they [government] don’t want to change. There are those who also want to change the Constitution.”

In a sign of concern among the government over the public campaign efforts of Suu Kyi and the 88 Generation activists, President Thein Sein issued a secret directive in February, warning top government officials of to prepare for the possibility of mass protests and violence this year caused by disagreements over constitutional reform.

Thein Sein’s nominally-civilian government was installed by former junta leader Than Shwe as part of the current democratic transition, which is supposed to lead to free and fair elections in 2015.

The Constitution was drafted in 2008 by the military junta and pushed through during a flawed referendum held almost exactly six years ago, just a few days after Cyclone Nargis killed about 138,000 people in Burma’s worst-ever natural disaster.

The charter is unpopular and undemocratic as it contains provisions giving the military sweeping political powers, such as control over a quarter of Parliament, immunity from crimes committed during junta rule, while it prevents Suu Kyi from holding the presidency because her sons are British nationals.

Article 436 requires more than 75 percent of Parliament to support amendments to key articles in the Constitution, giving the military an effective veto over such reforms.