Burma Military Should Have Less Power: Obama

By Lawi Weng 14 November 2014

RANGOON — US President Barack Obama has used a meeting with a group of senior Burmese lawmakers to state that the military should not be a feature of the country’s political landscape.

Meeting with 13 leading parliamentary figures from both the ruling party and opposition in Naypyidaw on Thursday, President Obama affirmed his belief that the military should be placed firmly under control of the civilian government.

“He said that it would be better if the army stayed under control of the civilian government,” Banyar Aung Moe, an Upper House parliamentarian for the All Mon Region Democracy Party, told The Irrawaddy.

Banyar Aung Moe said that Obama’s comments were indirect, but those in the meeting were left no doubt of the president’s intended meaning.

“He said the army in America and in other countries stayed away from politics, and that Burma will have a better reform process if the army stays away from politics,” the lawmaker added.

The 2008 Constitution currently grants the Burma Army significant political powers, including direct control over a quarter of all seats in both national and regional level parliaments, and three ministerial posts in the government, namely in the Defense Ministry, Home Affairs and Border Affairs.

Speaking to BBC Radio, Ye Tun, a lawmaker from the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, said that President Obama had told the meeting that the next leader of the country should be elected by civilian politicians and the military should not be involved in politics. In doing so, Obama spoke of the recent history of Indonesia, where he said governance had improved as the military had progressively withdrawn from political life.

The president added that no country in the world is in possession of the perfect constitution, and improvements to Burma’s Constitution would take time, according to Ye Tun.

National League for Democracy chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi, Lower House speaker Shwe Mann and Upper House speaker Khin Aung Myint of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party were among the other lawmakers who met with President Obama.

Suu Kyi’s party has 43 seats in the Lower House following free by-elections in 2012 that gave her party a small foothold in the USDP-dominated Parliament. Ethnic lawmakers hold a tiny number of seats and some are aligned with the ruling party.

Khin Aung Myint told the US President that Burma has less experience of parliamentary democracy and has many challenges to work through.

According to Ye Tun, the Upper House speaker and former junta member said it was not in Burma’s interests to return to military government.

At the same time, Khin Aung Myint asked Obama to withdraw all US sanctions imposed on Burma, saying that the country needed more economic progress to complement political reform, according to Banyar Aung Moe.

Shwe Mann told President Obama that Parliament is currently working through constitutional amendments and deciding on an appropriate electoral system for the country.

Ethnic party leaders told Obama that Burma should adopt a federal system of governance in order to guarantee equal rights and representation for ethnic minorities and secure long-term peace.

According to Banyar Aung Moe, Obama said in the meeting that the Burmese government should consider sharing power and devolving more of its responsibilities to state governments.