Military MPs Chided for Silence on Telcoms Bill

By Htet Naing Zaw 3 July 2013

Military representatives in Parliament were scolded by a legislative leader on Tuesday after they failed to contribute to debate over a telecommunications bill currently under deliberation.

Khin Aung Myint, speaker of the Upper House of Parliament, criticized the silence of military lawmakers after they failed to indicate whether they favored or rejected the bill’s various chapters during a parliamentary session on Tuesday.

“Army representatives are to say ‘yes’ if you agree and ‘no’ if not. You have a responsibility to answer when I ask you all, because every chapter from the telecommunications bill is discussed for approval,” Khin Aung Myint said.

“Regarding your indecisive actions, you have been warned indirectly several times. If you do not indicate yes or no, I can order you folks to stay out of the Parliament for this session,” he warned.

As a matter of legislative procedure, each chapter of a bill must be presented to parliamentarians for their approval.

During Tuesday’s deliberation of the telecommunications bill, Parliament’s military representatives failed to respond after being repeatedly prompted to do so, said Hla Swe, a representative from Pwint Phyu constituency.

“It seems that they [the army representatives] became bored and did not say anything in response after the chairman had asked them 20 times. They are not suited to this situation because they are soldiers. Since they did not respond, the chairman got angry and scolded them,” he said.

Khin Aung Myint’s displeasure prompted him to suggest that the seemingly disinterested military lawmakers remove themselves from the legislative chamber, according to Phone Myint Aung, a representative from South Okkalapa.

“He [Khin Aung Myint] told them they could stay outside if they were not interested since they were sitting without uttering a word,” he said.

Unlike other parliamentarians, who were elected by the public, the legislature’s military representatives were selected by the Burma’s commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing.

That fact makes the lawmakers beholden to the military chain of command, said another member of Parliament.

“Army representatives cannot perform as they wish. They can only continue with orders from above,” he said. “It seems that the commander-in-chief asked them to come to the parliamentary meeting to listen and observe the situation only. They have neither the right to talk nor discuss. There was some discussion by them at the very beginning of the parliamentary meetings, but after some time, discussion ceased.”

Commenting on Tuesday’s events, political analyst Yan Myo Thein said the situation highlighted the need for constitutional change.

“It is useless to the whole political process to let the army have 25 percent of seats in Parliament. According to their nature, army representatives will only do as instructed,” he said, referring to a constitutional provision that guarantees the military 25 percent of seats in Parliament. “If the army cannot give up that 25 percent of seats, it should allow the soldiers who are interested in politics to be in Parliament, while letting them enjoy the right to talk and discuss.”

One elected lawmaker from Myay Pone constituency claimed that on any issue putting the government at odds with Parliament, military representatives sided with the government. He added that they opposed anything perceived as hazardous to military interests.

Another parliamentary representative agreed.

“They [military representatives] never talk about the desires of the public. It is assumed that they will only do things related to the army as they are not representatives of the public. They, of course, will object if they think the interests of the army will be hurt,” he said.

The Constitution has been the subject of much discussion since the reformist President Thein Sein took power in 2011. In addition to the military’s guaranteed allocation of seats in Parliament, restrictions on presidential eligibility have been scrutinized by supporters of opposition leader Aung Sun Suu Kyi, who is unable to run for the office because her late husband and children are foreign citizens. Critics say these provisions and others make the 2008 Constitution fundamentally undemocratic.