Military MPs Object to Constitutional Change

By Kyaw Kha 17 November 2014

RANGOON — Military representatives in Parliament have signaled that they will not support amendments to Burma’s controversial Constitution, dimming prospects for substantive change to the charter ahead of national elections due late next year.

The military parliamentarians late last week objected to a proposal to change a key provision of Burma’s Constitution entrenching their political power, and on Monday a colonel in the legislature indicated that the entirety of the document was off limits, as far as his colleagues were concerned.

National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker Win Myint put a proposal before Parliament on Thursday suggesting that parliamentarians amend Article 436—a provision restricting further amendments to the military-drafted Constitution—only to face the objection of military representatives.

Article 436 requires that 75 percent of lawmakers approve proposed amendments to much of the 2008 Constitution, a high hurdle to clear in a Parliament that guarantees 25 percent of seats to the military.

“The military came out against the NLD’s proposal for amending Article 436, whereas the Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP] spoke ambiguously,” Upper House lawmaker Phone Myint Aung told The Irrawaddy.

Win Myint proposed that Article 436 be amended as well as Article 59(f), which bars NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.

He also demanded that Article 6(f), falling under the “Basic Principles of the Union,” be changed. That section grants the military a leading role in national politics.

Military representatives not only objected to the Article 436 proposal, but also made charter amendment recommendations of their own, including one that would allow the National Defense and Security Council (NDSC) to play a part in dissolving Parliament, Win Myint told The Irrawaddy.

The military representatives’ recommendations included a proposed expansion of the role of the NDSC, assigning five additional powers to the 11-member council, which is chaired by President Thein Sein and dominated by former and active military officials.

One of the new duties would give the NDSC the power to advise that the president dissolve Parliament if one-third of the seats or more in either house of Parliament are vacant for any reason.

A total of 146 lawmakers have submitted their names to offer their input on amending the Constitution. Discussion is continuing this week, with reports indicating that that the debate is likely to wrap up by Nov. 25.

On Monday, a military parliamentarian told his fellow lawmakers that the Constitution should not be amended in order to protect the so-called “three national causes” put forward by Burma’s former military regime. The three national causes—non-disintegration of the Union; non-disintegration of national solidarity; and perpetuation of sovereignty—were promulgated in 1988.

“In order to realize benefits for citizens, for political parties, we should leave our Constitution [as it is] originally, and should not amendment it,” Col. Tin Soe said on Monday.

During a visit to Burma last week, US President Barack Obama called for inclusive, free and fair elections in 2015, after meeting with Thein Sein and key lawmakers in Naypyidaw. Obama told the press that charter amendments would be key to Burma’s democratic transition after visiting the opposition leader Suu Kyi in Rangoon. He also said Article 59(f) “doesn’t make much sense to me.”

Article 436 has been put to the public as well, with an NLD-led petition earlier this year garnering nearly 5 million signatures in favor of change.

Though there have been calls for amendments to the Constitution from within and outside Parliament, the fact that military representatives hold a 25 percent bloc in the legislature continues to hamper efforts to change the charter.

“The changing of Article 436 will have an adverse impact on the military and restrict its role. So, the military is sensitive about it and therefore we have a long way to go before we can amend Article 436,” said Phone Myint Aung.

Addition reporting by The Irrawaddy’s Lawi Weng.