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Politics

Constitutional Change Could Trigger ‘Political Instability’: Shwe Mann

Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann warns against being “too greedy” when seeking amendments to the Constitution, saying disagreements over the charter could cause "political instability."


RANGOON — Union Parliament speaker and chairman of Burma’s ruling party, Shwe Mann, has publicly warned against being “too greedy” when seeking amendments to the 2008 Constitution, saying disagreements over the charter could cause “political instability.”

Shwe Mann made the remarks during a visit to Sagaing Division’s Monywa District, according to state media, which quoted him as saying, “We need to learn from the past, we have a bitter history with amending the Constitution.”

The leader of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is the political incarnation of Burma’s former military junta, said now was a good time to begin amending the Constitution, but warned politicians and the public to not be too demanding in their aspirations.

“If we look at international community standards [for amending a Constitution], we should not be too greedy when we make constitutional amendments,” he said.

Shwe Mann claimed disagreements over the Constitution could lead to political upheaval like in the Middle East, where several countries have experienced unrest and internal conflict in recent years.

“It was sad to see political instability in the Middle East and some countries in Africa. There, political instability harmed properties of the people and the country. This should not to happen in our country. Our country needs to wisely decide on amendments of the constitution,” he said.

Burma’s Constitution was drafted in 2008 by the then military regime and is widely considered as being undemocratic because it gives great political powers to the army, which controls a quarter of the legislative and can veto any proposed constitutional amendment.

The charters also prevents opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president as Article 59(F) states that Burma’s president cannot have a spouse or children with a foreign nationality. Suu Kyi’s late husband was a British citizen, as are her two sons.

In recent months, the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader has been publicly increasing pressure on the USDP-dominated Parliament and the quasi-civilian government of President Thein Sein, calling on them to back broad-ranging amendments ahead of the 2015 national elections.

Many ethnic armed groups are also demanding changes to the charter, as it concentrates political power over Burma’s ethnic, resource-rich regions in the hands of the central government in Naypyidaw.

The USDP has dragged its feet on discussions over constitutional change, however. In December, the party proposed a small change to Article 59 (f) that would allow Suu Kyi to become president as long as her two sons renounce their British citizenship and become Burmese citizens. Suu Kyi has rejected the proposal.

Last week, Shwe Mann said the USDP would “not block” amendments to Article 59(F), but added that this change was not the party’s main focus.

The US Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell recently called Article 59(F) “a relic of the past” and questioned why some politicians continue to resist changing it.