Constitutional Tribunal Could Face Impeachment

By Nyein Nyein 16 August 2012

Shwe Mann, the speaker of Burma’s Lower House of Parliament, told MPs on Tuesday that they can begin impeachment proceedings against members of the Constitutional Tribunal next week if President Thein Sein fails to take action to overturn a controversial tribunal decision.

Last week, 301 Lower House MPs signed a petition calling on the tribunal to withdraw a judgment reached in March that declared it unconstitutional to designate “committees, commissions and bodies formed by each Hluttaw [Parliament]” as “Union-level organizations.”

The decision by the nine-member tribunal, which consists of judges selected by the president and the speakers of both houses of Parliament, is controversial because it was seen as undermining the role of MPs.

“The Constitutional Tribunal is now assuming a position above Parliament that harms its legislative powers,” said Ba Shein, a Lower House MP from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party. “If they continue to exercise their influence in this way, what is left of the role of legislators?”

In April, 191 MPs appealed to the president to do something about the tribunal’s decision, but no action was taken, said Shwe Mann, who called on Tuesday for the tribunal members to resign voluntarily. If they don’t, he said, the MPs can move to impeach them on Aug. 22, after Thein Sein has had a chance to respond to calls to reverse the March ruling.

“If the president acts as requested, the impeachment will not proceed,” the speaker added.

The dispute began in February, when the attorney-general, acting on behalf of the president, asked the tribunal to decide on the status of committees and other bodies formed by Parliament.

The tribunal determined that these bodies could not be designated “Union-level organizations” because,
under Parts I and II of Section 97a of the Constitution, Union-level bodies can only be appointed by the president with the approval of the Union Parliament.

This was immediately criticized as an excessively narrow interpretation of the Constitution. According to Deputy Lower House Speaker Nanda Kyaw Swa, any committee formed by Parliament is a Union-level body under Section 140 and 160 of the Constitution.

Although the dispute has been left unresolved for the past five months, it has received very little public attention. It was only raised in the state media this week, when The New Light of Myanmar reported that Shwe Mann had sent a letter to the president regarding the MP’s concerns.