Interim Report Constitutional Reform Committee Lacks Details

By Nyein Nyein 24 July 2014

An interim report by a parliamentary committee discussing amendments to Burma’s controversial Constitution has failed to shed any light on what changes the committee might propose, opposition lawmakers said on Thursday.

The Union Parliament Constitutional Amendment Implementation Committee is obliged to inform Parliament about the progress that has been made since discussions began in February, but opposition MPs said it only sent a brief note on Thursday that included no details.

Ba Shein, an Arakan National Party Lower House MP, said, “It should have at least said what [planned] changes have been discussed.”

The 2-page letter, dated 22 July, said the committee would share its findings and suggested amendments with Parliament “after the remaining chapters and clauses are discussed.”

The letter said committee members had so far “discussed changes, removals and amendments” in seven out of 15 chapters of the Constitution, reviewing 340 out of 457 articles during 30 meetings held since February.

Banyar Aung Moe, an All Mon Regions Democracy Party Upper House MP who is a committee member, said he could not disclose details of the discussions. “We are still conducting more meetings as the discussions are not yet completed for the whole Constitution,” said he, adding that there is a “hot debate” on what changes should be made.

Nang Wah Nu, a lawmaker with the Shan Nationalities Development Party, said she does not expect that the committee will make fundamental changes to the military-drafted, 2008 charter, as ethnic parties and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) have little influence in the committee.

“Apart from our five ethnic committee members, we are not even allowed to observe [discussions],” she said.

The 31-member committee comprises 14 MPs of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and seven military lawmakers. There are only two NLD members and eight committee members of various ethnic minority parties. The USDP is the political incarnation of the former junta.

The committee has been charged with concluding its work six months prior to the elections, which are scheduled for late 2015.

Burma’s charter was drafted by the then-military regime and is widely viewed as undemocratic, as it grants sweeping political powers to the Burma Army, including control over a quarter of all Parliament seats.

The committee has said it will discuss amending Article 436 and a number of other articles, but it remains to be seen whether fundamental changes will be made that would erode the power of the military. The article stipulates that amendments can only take place with more than 75 percent of Parliament votes, giving the military lawmakers a de facto veto.

The committee decided on June 12 that it was unwilling to amend Article 59 (f) after USDP and military MPs on the committee reportedly blocked the idea, landing a blow to Suu Kyi as the article prevents her from holding the post because her sons are British citizens.

Suu Kyi has launched a nationwide campaign in recent months and her party said it on Monday that it had collected 5 million signatures in favor of amending article 436.