Formation of Constitution Amendment Committee Stalled

By Htet Naing Zaw 8 February 2019

NAYPYITAW—Efforts by parliamentarians to form a committee to draft amendments to the 2008 charter have stalled as Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) appointees and Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lawmakers have opposed the proposed committee structure.

Following the Union parliament’s approval to form the committee, Lower House Speaker T Khun Myat proposed that it would be a 45-member body, comprising 22 lawmakers each from the two houses of Parliament and lead by a chairman.

The speaker revealed the tentative structure of the committee when he met lawmakers on Friday afternoon. Taking lessons from a similar committee formed under the previous U Thein Sein government, the new committee will be a leaner one, said the speaker. The committee to review the Constitution formed by the previous parliament consisted of 109 members, and there were resulting inefficiencies, he said.

“There is no decision yet on the matter and it will be taken up in the next meeting [which has been moved to Feb. 15]. Today many have debated on this and we will have to think about the possible approaches. We are stuck at the formation of the committee. We will look for a [solution] and then we will meet again,” said Sai Thiha Kyaw, the Lower House lawmaker who joined the meeting held in the Parliament compound.

Lower House lawmaker U Thaung Aye from the USDP said his party wants equal representation rather than representation by proportion. According to the proposed 45-members, U Thaung Aye said, the National League for Democracy (NLD) would have 20 places, while the USDP would only have two and other parties would not get to send more than two people to the committee.

The NLD makes up 59 percent of total elected-lawmakers in the Parliament, followed by 25 percent military appointees, 11 percent represent the combined ethnic parties while 5 percent are from the USDP.

“As it is the committee to amend the Constitution, we suggest it should be balanced [in representation], whether five or 10 from each [party],” he said.

He then added, if they move ahead on the formation of the committee in this way, the NLD would be blamed and also the Tatmadaw would not agree. The Tatmadaw has not yet clearly said whether they would take part in the committee or not.

Upper House lawmaker Dr. Myat Nyana Soe, of the NLD said as the Union Parliament has approved the formation of the committee, it cannot turn backwards. Thus they are openly negotiating with lawmakers from the 14 parties who are in the Parliament as well as with the military appointees.

He said it won’t take long and they would meet again to exchange views on how to form the committee and that they would update the Parliament on this.

U Lar Mar Lay from the Lisu National Development Party said, “as we are a small party, we do not have any complaints. If a party has only one lawmaker in the Parliament, they can be in the committee too, but Rakhine and Shan parties are not so happy with the proportion.”

As this committee is a working committee to draft the bill to amend the Constitution, there is no problem in this formation of the committee, said U Sai Thiha Kyaw, of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, representing Mongyai constituency in Shan State.

“It is no problem for us, but some want more than their quota. Some suggest having equal proportions. Anyhow, it is appropriate that the members are lawmakers representing the parties and the Tatmadaw,” said U Sai Thiha Kyaw.

There were only two NLD representatives in the previous 109-members Committee formed under the President U Thein Sein, but there were no objections from the NLD on that, said U Ye Tun, former Lower House lawmaker from Hsipaw, Shan State.

“The number of committee members is not so important here yet, whatever the decision is. If the lawmakers draft a bill that is agreed by the Tatmadaw, it would be interesting,” U Ye Tun said.

Present at the meeting were lawmakers from the ruling NLD, USDP, Wa Democratic Party, Pa-O National Organization, Zomi Democracy Party, Ta’ang National Party, Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, Arakan National Party, Kokang Democracy and Unity Party, Mon National Party, National United Democratic Party, National Unity Party, Kachin State Democracy Party and Lisu National Development Party.

Four military lawmakers—two representing the military bloc in Parliament and two as observers—attended the meeting though they previously boycotted the proposal and debate on forming the committee.