Suu Kyi Says Report Shows Support for Burma Charter Reform

By Zarni Mann 4 February 2014

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said that a report last week from a parliamentary committee showed there was strong public support for changing the country’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution.

Friday’s report from Naypyidaw’s Joint Constitutional Review Committee (JCRC) set out comments about amending the Constitution—from the public, experts, NGOs, political parties and government departments—but has sowed confusion.

The report showed most of the more than 28,000 responses to a consultation had supported amending the Constitution. But footnotes in the report cited a single petition—signed by more than 100,000 people—rejecting constitutional change.

Speaking to reporters in Naypyidaw on Monday, National League for Democracy (NLD) chairperson Suu Kyi said the results should be taken as an endorsement of her calls for changes to the Constitution.

The 2008 Constitution bans Suu Kyi from the presidency because her children are foreign nationals, guarantees the military a role in national politics and is criticized by ethnic groups who want more autonomy in border areas.

“If we look at the tables, the number of people who want to change the Constitution is more than the others [people who do not]. It is so clear that there is a willingness to amend the Constitution in the majority of the letters submitted,” Suu Kyi said, dismissing the petition mentioned in the footnotes.

“Just forget the petition that more than 100,000 signed for not amending the Constitution as it is unclear, and we do not know who they are. As far as we understand, there are no details of the signatories. We can’t say these people or those people are not willing to amend the Constitution by just seeing the signatures.”

Suu Kyi told reporters that, with the report, Parliament now has a clear indication that the people’s will is to amend the Constitution.

On Monday, the Union Parliament approved the formation of a new committee to implement the findings of the review committee’s report, according to the state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

“It’s time to see whether the Parliament will follow the people’s desire or not,” Suu Kyi said. “Parliamentarians need to be brave, and we will see whether the Parliament’s decision is for the people, or if they are not brave enough to stand for the people who voted for them.”

The JCRC’s report compiled 28,237 letters of response from political parties, legal experts and NGOs, government ministries and the military, and the public.

It said that an overwhelming 27,148 of all the letters wanted changes to Chapter 1 of the Constitution, which outlines the “Basic Principles of the Union.” Chapter 1 includes the contentious Article 6(f), which ensures that the armed forces can “participate in the National political leadership role of the State.”

On Chapter 3, which includes Article 59(f)—barring those with foreign relatives from becoming president—the vast majority of responses, 5,833 out of 6,183, were in favor of change.

But below the tables in the report, footnotes said the 106,102 signatories of a petition opposed the specific changes that would wrest power from the military and allow Suu Kyi to become president.

According to the Voice Weekly, Aung Thein Lin, a lawmaker for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, confirmed to the newspaper that the petition was submitted by a member of the party’s Central Executive Committee, and that the signatories were party members.

Htay Oo, a member of the NLD’s own constitutional reform committee, said the JCRC should have been clearer about the petition.

“As far as we know, those 106,102 signatures are just signed on the back of the letter that said they do not agree with amending the Constitution. If the committee is sincere, they should have stated plainly that those signatures are unclear. What if only one person has signed many different signatures and submitted it?” he said.

“It is obvious that the report is intended to create misunderstanding. But if you look closely, it is very clear that majority of the letters submitted to the committee said the Constitution needs to be amended.”