Clashes Over Charter Change Grow Fiercer Than Ever in Myanmar Parliament

By San Yamin Aung 9 December 2019

YANGON — A parliamentary confrontation between Myanmar’s military and the National League for Democracy (NLD) has come to a head over constitutional reform.

On Monday, a military-appointed parliamentarian objected to NLD member U Kyaw Aung Lwin’s claim that the armed forces controlled the 2008 Constitution because they could veto any attempts at charter change.

Under the Constitution, 25 percent of Parliament is appointed by the military and a more than 75 percent majority is required to alter the charter.

“It is already expected that numerous difficulties, obstacles and challenges await when amending the Constitution. It is the hardest country in which to make constitutional changes in the world as it needs the approval of the military even if all the elected representatives want to amend,” said the member for Magwe Region’s Sidoktaya Township.

U Kyaw Aung Lwin said the Constitution should be in the public interest, not to benefit individual groups or to help maintain their control.

Parliamentarians have been discussing a bill committee’s suggestion to review a constitutional amendment bill jointly submitted by the military and its allies in the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in September which included broader powers for the military-dominated National Defense and Security Council (NDSC).

The bill committee has suggested that the legislation, as before, be reviewed by the Charter Amendment Committee — the path the NLD has paved for constitutional reform — instead of discussion by the full Parliament.

The military and USDP have raised strong objections to the bill committee’s suggestions, while the NLD has asked for the bill to be reviewed by the Charter Amendment Committee.

Military appointee Major Kyaw Soe Oo said their proposed changes in the bill included some that the NLD wanted to make in the previous parliament. The major claimed the NLD was now being silent and the party’s efforts in the previous parliament were just meant to win ethnic votes.

The NLD’s U Aung Kyi Nyunt objected to the remarks, saying that the major was trying to spread misunderstanding about the party.

The heated remarks led the Speaker to warn members to avoid insulting comments.

Last Thursday, during the debate on the bill committee’s suggestions on the same bill, a new record was set for the most objections in a constitutional reform debate. An NLD member’s reference to “the dictatorship” and a military appointee’s use of the phrase “democracy bullying” sparked controversy.

The Speaker on Monday said he would remove the comments of five members, including those remarks, from the parliamentary record.

Ethnic Rakhine member Daw Htoot May said she was disappointed by the arguments and by delays to amending the Constitution.

“It seems like we, the ethnic minorities, have to just sit and watch their clashes. We should be discussing constitutional amendments to be able to build a genuinely democratic, federal Union.”