Suu Kyi Calls on Army Members to Sign Constitutional Reform Petition

By May Sitt Paing 29 May 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s main opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged members of the military to support a nationwide petition to reform the country’s undemocratic Constitution.

For many months the National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman has been calling for amendments to the military-drafted charter, which was adopted following a flawed referendum under the previous junta in 2008.

On Tuesday, her party and the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society began a petition campaign to gather public support for reforming the charter’s Article 436. “We are doing something to change the future of our country. Please urge anyone in your community to join it. Please do it,” Suu Kyi said at the start of the two-month petition period.

She said members of the Burma Army, which numbers between 300,000 and 400,000 soldiers, should also sign the petition and support change in their country.

“I want to urge army men to sign it because as the country’s employees they have right to sign it too,” Suu Kyi said, adding that support from military lawmakers in Parliament is also imperative to achieving charter reform.

A quarter of Burma’s parliamentary seats are reserved for military officers, in accordance with the Constitution. They are routinely replaced and have to vote on orders of Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Suu Kyi’s party and ethnic opposition parties hold a small number of seats in Parliament. The rest are controlled by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which comprises members of the former junta.

The Constitution’s Article 436 states that key amendments to the charter can only take place if more than 75 percent of Parliament supports it—a provision that gives the military a de facto veto.

Suu Kyi challenged the notion that army MPs should vote in accordance with their commander’s orders and said, “any change to the charter is totally dependent on a person’s wish and whether he wants to change [the Constitution] or not.”

Wai Lin, a Lower House military lawmaker, said in a reaction that only military MPs on the parliamentary committee for constitutional reform could decide whether or not Burma Army members could support Suu Kyi’s petition.

“We need a discussion with them on whether [soldiers can] join or not join the petition,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The charter remains unpopular among the Burmese public as it grants political powers to the military and immunity for crimes committed under the junta, and because Article 59 (f) prevents Suu Kyi from becoming president because her children are British nationals.

The government has shown signs of increasing nervousness over Suu Kyi’s call on the public to support reform. On May 18, the Union Election Commission (UEC) issued a warning to Suu Kyi over her challenge to the country’s military to amend the charter, saying she was “speaking outside of the boundaries of the Constitution.”

In February, President Thein Sein sent a secret directive to all top government officials warning them to prepare for unrest because of a public campaign to amend the charter would gather steam this year.