Burma

Charter Amendment Committee Submits Two Bills to Myanmar Parliament Calling for Reduced Role for Military

By San Yamin Aung 27 January 2020

NAYPYITAW—More than half of Myanmar’s lawmakers on Monday jointly proposed a total of 114 amendments to the country’s Constitution—including changes that would limit the role of the military and its commander-in-chief in politics. The move, a significant step in the effort to amend Myanmar’s undemocratic charter, follows a year of discussion and often heated debate in Parliament.

Union Parliament Speaker T Khun Myat announced the submission of two constitutional amendment bills by the National League for Democracy and seven other political parties. The bills were drafted by the Charter Amendment Committee over the past 11 months and signed by a total of 351 lawmakers.

The first bill includes 51 proposed amendments covered by Article 436(a), meaning they require approval by more than 75 percent of lawmakers and over 50 percent support in a national referendum. The second bill includes 63 proposed amendments covered by Article 436(b), requiring the approval of over 75 percent of lawmakers but no referendum.

Both bills were distributed to lawmakers.

Unlike with previous amendment bills submitted by the military and its ally, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the two bills include proposals to amend, add or repeal provisions that grant the military special powers and privileges—changes the military is not yet willing to accept.

The bills state that the proposals aim to democratize the Constitution, as it contains undemocratic articles and provisions that contradict one another, prevent the establishment of a federal union, and fail to ensure equal rights for citizens.

The first bill includes a proposal that would gradually eliminate unelected military lawmakers from Parliament. It suggests reducing the military bloc, which currently accounts for 25 percent of lawmakers, to 15 percent in the 2020 election, and by a further 5 percentage points at subsequent general elections.

It also proposed removing Article 20(c), which states that, “The commander-in-chief is the supreme commander of all armed forces.”

The proposed changes also include the repeal of Article 59(f), which effectively bars State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of the current government, from becoming President.

Article 59(f) bars a person whose spouse and children are foreign citizens from becoming president. The NLD suggests removing it, saying that Article 59(b) contains sufficient security protections. It says the president “shall be a citizen of Myanmar who was born of both parents who were born in the territory under the jurisdiction of the Union and being Myanmar Nationals.”

The bill also includes proposed amendments to Article 436, which grants the military an effective veto over any proposed constitutional changes. It suggests changing the requirement for approving a charter amendment from more than 75 percent of Parliament to “two-thirds of elected representatives”, in both Article 436(a) and Article 436(b). This would remove the unelected military lawmakers’ veto on
changes.

The second bill includes a proposal that Chapter 14 of the Constitution, titled “Transitory Provisions”, be removed in its entirety, among other recommendations.

The submission of the bills on Monday marked the completion of the work of the Charter Amendment Committee. Formed in February 2019, its tasks were to review the entire charter, compile recommended changes from various parties, finalize the recommendations, draft amendment bills and submit them to Parliament.

Repeating the stance it has maintained ever since the committee was formed, military parliamentary appointee Lieutenant Colonel Myo Htet Win told reporters in Parliament on Monday that both bills were drafted to suit the NLD’s wishes regarding charter amendment, and the military does not support them.

“We have objected to it [the committee] since the very start,” he said.

The military and its allied USDP have raised strong objections to the formation of the committee, the approach the NLD and ethnic parties took in pushing for constitutional reform, and all of its procedures as unconstitutional. Instead of working with the committee, it submitted five constitutional amendment bills of its own, all of which seek to protect its interests.

NLD lawmaker Dr. Myat Nyana Soe rejected the military appointed lawmaker’s claims, saying the bills include proposals agreed by ethnic parties.

The five bills submitted by the military and USDP, and the two bills submitted by the NLD and ethnic parties on Monday, will be scrutinized by Parliament’s Joint Bill Committee. After 14 days, the committee will submit its report to Parliament. Following this, all of the bills will be open for parliamentary debate.

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