Ethnic MPs Select Aye Maung for Proposed Talks on Constitution

By Nyein Nyein 27 November 2014

Ethnic parliamentarians on Thursday voted for Arakanese lawmaker Aye Maung to represent them at a proposed six-member roundtable meeting on constitutional reform, but neither the president nor the commander-in-chief have yet indicated whether they will take part.

On Tuesday, Burma’s Parliament passed an urgent proposal requesting a meeting between President Thein Sein, speakers Shwe Mann and Khin Aung Myint, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and an ethnic representative.

The proposed high-level talks, originally slated to take place on Friday, come one month since the government held a 14-member roundtable meeting in late October, led by President Thein Sein. Those discussions were broader in scope and did not result in any discernable progress.

Pe Than, a Lower House representative of Myay Pone in Arakan State, said lawmakers had approved the proposal for high-level charter talks “because they have seen the deadlock in amending the 2008 Constitution.”

In mid-November, military representatives in Parliament signaled they would not support constitutional change and on Nov. 18, Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann said that any changes to the military-drafted charter could only be enacted after next year’s general elections.

Pe Than said that MPs believe a high-level meeting is the only way to create a platform for constitutional change, since any attempts to put amendments to a vote in parliament would be blocked by military and Union Solidarity and Development Party parliamentarians.

Independent political commentator Yan Myo Thein told The Irrawaddy that key political players should meet to create an agenda for change.

“The meeting should be started with just a few leaders from the government, the military, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic representatives. In this way, it would be more effective and then after they have established basic agreements, they could expand for wider participation.”

Pe Than said that Thursday’s vote by ethnic lawmakers reflected their support for the talks. Five of 14 ethnic parliamentarians voted in favor of Aye Maung while Wa parliamentarian Sai Pao Nut polled second, with one less vote.

The legislative sector’s move seems less likely to win the support of the executive. Presidential spokesperson and information minister Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy that the proposal was “incomplete” and “not pragmatic” as it “left out other ethnic leaders and ethnic political parties.” He questioned whether the single ethnic representative could effectively represent all ethnic nationalities at the meeting.

Yan Myo Thein also suggested that ethnic representatives be drawn from outside the Parliament, including from ethnic armed groups. He said that the nomination of Aye Maung, who was put forward as a vice presidential candidate after the 2010 elections, was “politically suitable.”

Ye Htut did not indicate whether Thein Sein would join the talks, saying that he had not discussed the issue with the president.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her party have long called for a sit-down between herself, the president, the military chief and the parliamentary speaker to discuss the issue of charter reform. On Tuesday, she told reporters that she did not oppose the parliament’s latest proposal for talks.