Military Lawmakers Withdraw from Charter Amendment Debate

By Htet Naing Zaw 29 July 2019

NAYPYITAW—Military-appointed lawmakers have withdrawn from a planned debate on proposed constitutional amendments that would restrict the military’s role in politics.

“The debate is not yet about the constitutional amendment bill. Perhaps this is the reason they have withdrawn. I am not clear what other motivations they have, but they have withdrawn,” Upper House lawmaker and ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party member U Aung Kyi Nyunt told The Irrawaddy. “As [Parliament] has just opened today [after the weekend], they might have withdrawn today.”

On Tuesday, the Union Parliament will begin debating a report submitted by its Charter Amendment Committee on proposed constitutional amendments. The parliamentary agenda for the debate does not include a list of military lawmakers that were to take part.

Out of 121 lawmakers registered for the debate, 78 are military appointees while 27 come from their proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The NLD nominated five and the Arakan National Party (ANP) and Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) nominated three each, with various smaller parties accounting for the remaining five, according to party lawmakers.

“They [the military] have issued a three-point stance [regarding the constitutional amendment]. They have responded according to that stance,” former Lieutenant-General Thaung Aye of the USDP told The Irrawaddy. The USDP considered following the lead of the military (or Tatmadaw) in withdrawing from debate but decided to join in order to keep the public informed, he said.

The Tatmadaw had raised objections to the formation of the Charter Amendment Committee from the outset, and despite its presence on the committee has not proposed any amendments. Tatmadaw representatives claim that the charter amendment process violates the Constitution

The Constitution, drafted and approved in 2008 by the then-ruling military junta, has been widely criticized as undemocratic, particularly for the 25 percent of parliamentary seats it reserves for military appointees.

Any amendment to the Constitution requires the approval of more than 75 percent of lawmakers in the Union Parliament, giving the Tatmadaw an assured veto power.

The report submitted by the committee in July included 3,765 proposed amendments, additions and removals from the Constitution.

Ethnic parties like the ANP and SNLD have suggested the military be removed from parliament in one fell swoop.

On July 17, as thousands of amendment supporters rallied in cities across the country, Brigadier-General Maung Maung, who leads military lawmakers in Parliament, called the attempt to make thousands of amendments to the Constitution harmful.

The Irrawaddy was unable to reach Brig-Gen Maung Maung for comment on Monday. A military lawmaker told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity that Brig-Gen Maung Maung will speak to the media about the military’s withdrawal on Tuesday.

In his address at an Armed Forces Day celebration in March Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services Vice Senior-General Soe Win stressed that the Constitution should be amended in line with current law to avoid a political crisis or any undesirable outcome.

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