Suu Kyi to Hold Rally in Irrawaddy Division for Charter Amendments

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 8 May 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s main opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will hold a rally in the Irrawaddy delta this weekend to show public support for constitutional amendments

More than 50,000 people will likely meet Suu Kyi during her first-ever tour of the delta on Saturday, a lawmaker from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party told The Irrawaddy.

“People from all 26 townships in Irrawaddy Division are expected to show up,” Sein Win, the MP said.

He said that during the three-hour rally, Suu Kyi and legal experts from the NLD would explain why they believe the 2008 Constitution is undemocratic and needs to be changed, before taking a poll on public opinion to gauge support for their campaign.

“People will have a chance to raise their questions about the Constitution,” he added.

The Constitution was drafted in 2008 by the former 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 because it contains provisions giving the military sweeping political powers, such as control over a quarter of Parliament seats and immunity from crimes committed during junta rule, while also preventing Suu Kyi from becoming president because her sons are British nationals. It contains an article that 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.

Last year, Suu Kyi began to publicly advocate for constitutional change and to hold talks with the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which contains mostly former junta generals.

The USDP has, however, dragged its feet on moves toward reform, 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. She teamed up to advocate for reform with activists from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society in February, and she is preparing for bigger public rallies in Rangoon and Mandalay later this month.

Small rallies calling for constitutional reform have been held in a number of towns and cities in recent months. However, political analysts have doubted their impact.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi may think popular support for amendments can influence Parliament’s decision for amendments,” political columnist Yan Myo Thein said.

“But given the current situation in Parliament, I haven’t seen any possibility of fixing the charter yet,” he said. The columnist explained that because the USDP has a majority of seats in the legislature, the NLD’s odds of pushing through amendments are slim.

“If the majority cast a ‘no vote’ for constitutional amendments, Parliament will say ‘no’ to it. There is nothing Daw Suu can do then,” he added.

He said the best option for the NLD would be to submit a proposal in Parliament for a referendum to review whether the Constitution should be amended or rewritten.

“But this might be impossible now, as the USDP members in Parliament wouldn’t like it. It could happen after the 2015 election, when the opposition parties will hopefully have more seats than they do now in Parliament.”