Burma’s Parliament Begins New Session

By Nyein Nyein 28 May 2014

Burma’s military-dominated Parliament will start a new session on Wednesday amid growing calls from opposition parties for changes to the country’s junta-drafted 2008 Constitution.

Lawmakers will gather in the capital Naypyidaw today for the first time in two months. The two houses of the national legislature will meet both separately and together for a session of the Union Parliament.

Besides the issue of constitutional reforms, a controversial draft bill proposing restrictions on interfaith marriage will also be discussed during the current session.

Among other key pieces of legislation slated for consideration are a national education bill, a draft law to amend the rules for political party registration, and a road and bridge transport bill, according to lawmakers.

The National Education Bill and the Political Parties Registration Amendment Bill, both submitted during the last session, will be the first order of business, said Phone Myint Aung, an Upper House lawmaker from the New National Democracy Party.

Phay Than, a Lower House MP from the Arakan National Party (ANP), said it was still unclear how much Parliament would be able to accomplish during the current session.

“We don’t know yet how many bills will be discussed or enacted this time,” he said.

Draft laws on constitutional changes and interfaith marriage have yet to be submitted to Parliament, and will only be discussed after commissions on these issues have made their recommendations, both lawmakers said.

Although the law to restrict marriage between people of different religions—put forward by nationalist Buddhist monks as a way to “protect” Buddhist women from marriage to Muslims—has attracted intense scrutiny due to recent sectarian violence in the country, moves to amend the 2008 Constitution are likely to be far more contentious, as they face stiff resistance from the ruling party and military-appointed MPs, who make up 25 percent of the national legislature.

“It is a long march,” said Aye Maung, an Upper House MP for the ANP who is also one of 31 members of the Constitutional Amendment Commission, adding that the process would probably not be completed until April of next year, ahead of national elections.

Opposition parties have in recent months stepped up their efforts to revise provisions in the charter that they deem undemocratic—particularly Article 436, which gives the military a de facto veto over all proposed amendments.

Burma’s Parliament has met nine times since a quasi-civilian government assumed power in 2011 after decades of military rule. The last session ended on March 26.

Eleven military appointees in the Lower House and eight in the Upper House will be replaced during the current session.