YANGON—National League for Democracy (NLD) party Central Executive Committee Member U Aung Kyi Nyunt has said that many in Myanmar, including the media, have misinterpreted State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s comments during her recent visit to Japan as meaning that constitutional reforms won’t happen before the 2020 general election. U Aung Kyi Nyunt is a member of the Charter Amendment Committee, the parliamentary body tasked with submitting a bill to amend the military-drafted 2008 Constitution.
In a story on Oct. 23, the Japan-based Nikkei Asian Review wrote that the State Counselor said in an interview in Tokyo that “amending the constitution is needed for Myanmar to transition to a ‘complete democracy,’ but is unlikely to happen before next year’s election.” But the story didn’t have a direct quote from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi saying the later phrase.
U Aung Kyi Nyunt said that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s words instead meant that the NLD is not pinning its hopes for the upcoming general elections on securing the constitutional amendments by next year.
The story in the Nikkei Asian Review led many domestic media outlets in Myanmar to report that constitutional changes wouldn’t happen before the 2020 election, referring to the interview.
However, the news outlet published a transcript of the interview a few hours after the article, in which the interviewer asks Daw Aung San Suu Kyi whether she thinks some constitutional changes can be achieved before the next election.
“That is difficult to say,” the State Counselor answers, “and we are not building hopes for the next election on our ability to bring about constitution amendments within the next year.”
U Aung Kyi Nyunt said it seems people interpreted the words based on their own assumptions.
Spokesperson for the ruling NLD Dr. Myo Nyunt also said that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi didn’t say it would be “impossible” to make changes before the 2020 election and that her words were misinterpreted. He said the NLD has been working to clarify this to the media.
The allegedly “misinterpreted” words drew a backlash against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from some critics who said she was undermining her party’s own initiative to amend the charter and that her words constituted an attempt by the government administration to disrupt the Parliament’s procedures.
The Charter Amendment Committee, created by the NLD, has compiled more than 3,765 recommended changes to the Constitution, collected from the various parties after a months-long review of the charter. The Parliament gave the committee the green light in August to move forward with drafting a bill to amend the Constitution.
“The committee will collect the proposed changes and draft the amendment bill. We hope to finalize and submit it to the Parliament next year [before the 2020 election],” said U Aung Kyi Nyunt, who proposed the formation of the committee in the Parliament.
The submission of the bill, however, won’t guarantee that the constitutional amendments will happen before the election, as there are many more steps in the process. Most importantly, under the 2008 Constitution, which is widely considered to be undemocratic, any amendments to the Constitution require the approval of more than 75 percent of lawmakers, 25 percent of which are military-appointed, giving the military de facto veto power over any proposed change.
The Myanmar military and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) have insisted that the Charter Amendment Committee’s process is unconstitutional and strongly objected to its existence since its inception.
The military-appointed lawmakers and USDP lawmakers have submitted their own amendment bills, separate from the Charter Amendment Committee process. Currently, the Parliament’s joint bill committee is scrutinizing three such bills to amend the Constitution.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told the Nikkei Asian Review that she has noticed the military is not overly enthusiastic about the proposed amendments.
She said that there is resistance to the Parliament’s committee to amend the Constitution but that with the will of the people, she believes the change will come.
“We believe the change will come, but how quickly it will come is difficult for us to predict because constitutions, after all, are made by men. And we do not see why a man-made constitution cannot be changed. It will… of course there is resistance, as you probably know, and this has to be overcome. And it has to be overcome in the way which will not upset the unity and tranquility of our country.”