Military 'Never Said' it Opposes Amending Constitution: Commander-in-Chief

By Htet Naing Zaw 31 January 2019

NAYPYITAW — Commander-in-Chief Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing on Thursday insisted that the military has never said it would not amend the country’s Constitution, responding to media questions about his views on changing the charter.

“[I] have already agreed to amend [the Constitution]. [I] never said the Constitution would not be amended,” he said at a military exercise in Mandalay Region.

“[I] have said [that I agree] many years ago, since the time of the first [civilian] government. But it is important that [the Constitution] is amended systematically. And I have nothing to say about anything else. [The Constitution] will be amended when it is necessary,” he added.

Upper House lawmaker U Aung Kyi Nyunt, a central executive committee member of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), submitted a proposal to Parliament on Tuesday to form a joint committee comprising fellow lawmakers to draft amendments to the Constitution.

Military lawmaker Brig. Gen. Maung Maung complained during the session that the formation of such a committee was not in line with established procedures, adding that legislators should not resort to deceit or craftiness.

When the speaker rejected his complaint, all the  military lawmakers took to their feet — their customary method of displaying their displeasure with NLD motions they disapprove of. Their defiance prompted the speaker to ask sarcastically, “What does it mean?”

The speaker explained that the proposal to form a committee represented an all-inclusive approach to constitutional reform and that it allowed for debate. Parliament subsequently voted to discuss the proposal at a later date.

On Thursday, U Aung Kyi Nyunt told reporters in Naypyitaw that his proposal to form a committee was not intended to serve the interests of a particular person or party, but of the country. He said the proposed amendments have not been predetermined and would be discussed by the committee, which would be inclusive.

“What we are saying is simple. It is time [to changed the Constitution] for the future of our country. I don’t say what should be and what shouldn’t be. The point is what kind of country you want to leave future generations. Let’s think about it together. This is the objective,” he said.

“As the military representative said, his proposal is not even an urgent proposal. But the fact that such a proposal even had to be put to a vote damages the dignity of the Union Parliament or the legislative branch,” Lower House lawmaker U Thaung Aye told The Irrawaddy.

Brig. Gen. Maung Maung, who leads the military’s lawmakers in the Union Parliament, questioned the NLD’s motives in moving to amend the Constitution only one year before the 2020 elections when it could have started sooner.

“There is not much time left, and they are not transparent with their intentions. We view their efforts to amend the Constitution to be hasty. And [the NLD] overstepped the procedures. Such acts are not democratic,” he told reporters.

The NLD holds 59 percent of the seats in Parliament, ethnic parties 11 percent, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party 5 percent, and the military itself — as per the Constitution, which it wrote — 25 percent. The Constitution also states that the charter cannot be amended without approval from more than 75 percent of lawmakers.

While military leaders do not explicitly object to seeing the Constitution amended in public, they often say it needs to be protected and that it holds the key to holding the country together.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.