Lower House Committee Endorses ‘State Counselor’ Bill

By Tin Htet Paing 4 April 2016

RANGOON — Burma’s Lower House Bill Committee on Monday recommended that a “State Counselor” bill be approved by Parliament without any amendments, putting legislation creating a powerful position for National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi one step closer to reality.

Tun Tun Hein, chairman of the 15-member committee, took to the dais during Monday’s parliamentary session to explain its findings on the draft bill, which was passed by the Upper House last week.

He shared that during committee meetings, most members expressed favor for the bill, while two members voiced concerns about the proposal’s constitutionality and speedy approval in the upper chamber. Steven, a lawmaker representing the formerly ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in Shan State’s Kengtung Township, and fellow committee member Brig-Gen Maung Maung, a military appointee, opposed the bill in its current form.

“Most members of the Bill Committee agreed that the bill should be endorsed without any amendments, as approved by the Upper House,” Tun Tun Hein told lawmakers of the NLD-majority committee’s findings.

The bill, proposed by President Htin Kyaw, passed the NLD-dominated upper chamber by a vote of 137-70 on Friday. The bill includes five chapters and eight articles, and marks the party’s first legislative initiative since Htin Kyaw was sworn in as president on Wednesday.

The text of the legislation explicitly designates Suu Kyi as “state counselor,” and has been widely interpreted as a move by the party leader to circumvent a Constitution that bars her from the presidency. In the role, she would be given a broad consultative mandate with both the legislative and executive branches.

The secretary of the Upper House Bill Committee told lawmakers last week that the bill was drafted in order to implement the will of a public who voted in large majorities for the NLD and its popular leader Suu Kyi on Nov. 8. The bill has been criticized as unconstitutional by parliamentarians in opposition.

Maung Maung of the Lower House Bill Committee repeated his concerns at Monday’s session, asking the chamber’s speaker to allow sufficient time to discuss the bill and emphasizing the importance of maintaining a separation between the legislative and executive powers of the state.

“Rushing to approve a bill within such a short time may call into question democratic standards and the existence of transparency,” he said.

“We, military lawmakers, will show our support as long as the bill is approved in accordance with the Constitution,” he continued.

Lower House Speaker Win Myint announced that the bill would be discussed on Tuesday afternoon. The chamber leader, in responding to Maung Maung’s concerns about the swift timetable, cited the need to push the legislation through ahead of a lengthy holiday break next week, when Burma celebrates the Buddhist New Year.

The party hopes to have the legislation sent to Htin Kyaw for his signature ahead of the recess.