Committee to Amend Constitution Gets Strong Show of Support in Parliament

By The Irrawaddy 5 February 2019

YANGON — A joint parliamentary committee to draft amendments to the country’s undemocratic Constitution appeared likely to take form after a strong majority of lawmakers who joined a debate on the proposal in Parliament on Tuesday endorsed the idea.

In the first move by the National League for Democracy (NLD) to amend the military-drafter charter since taking power in 2016, party lawmaker U Aung Kyi Nyunt submitted a proposal last week to form the ad hoc committee “as soon as possible.” The legislature’s military-appointed lawmakers objected strenuously, claiming the move violated constitutional rules. The military lawmakers, who are guaranteed 25 percent of the seats in Parliament by the Constitution, showed up to Tuesday’s debate on the proposal but refused to participate.

Thirty lawmakers did join the debate — 12 from the NLD, 11 from five ethnic minority parties, five from the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and one from the National United Democratic Party.. All except the five from the military-backed USDP spoke in favor of the committee and offered suggestions on what form it should take.

The Constitution has been criticized for being undemocratic both at home and abroad for articles that place the military beyond the control of the civilian government and that restrict the rights of ethnic minorities including the right to self-determination.

The NLD has been pushing for constitutional amendments since 2013. In a nationwide poll at the time, 97 percent of respondents in 267 townships across the country said they wanted the Constitution changed.

During Tuesday’s debate, Daw Htu May, of the Arakan League for Democracy, said she welcomed the formation of the reform committee because “the constitutional crisis is Myanmar’s crisis” and called for an inclusive body.

“The constitution of a democratic country has to guarantee human rights, equality and self-determination for the nation. If you take a hardliner approach this time, you will disappoint people who hold the sovereign power of the union,” she said.

U Sai Tun Aye, of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, said constitutional reform was needed to address issues such as decentralization, which could in turn help ethnic minorities achieve greater self-determination.

“I seriously agree with the formation of the committee and will actively be involved upon its formation,” he said.

The USDP’s U Maung Myint “seriously” objected, echoing the military’s complaint from last week that constitutional rules were being breached.

Citing Chapter 12 of the Constitution, the USDP and military say any proposed amendments must be submitted as a bill before being submitted to Parliament for discussion.

“The committee has to be formed after we have the bill. Now it’s in reverse order,” said U Maung Myint.

However, U Aung Kyi Nyunt, who proposed the committee, and Speaker U T Khun Myat said the proposal had nothing to do with drafting a bill.

“The formation of the committee is the first step to drafting a bill to amend the Constitution,” said U T Khun Myat.

Parliament, where the NLD holds more than half the seats, will vote on the formation of the committee on Wednesday.