Military’s Parliamentary Quota Necessary as Country Not Yet Stable: Army Chief

By Htet Naing Zaw 18 February 2019

NAYPYITAW—Myanmar Army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has defended the military’s constitutionally guaranteed allotment of 25 percent of seats in the national legislature, saying it remains necessary to safeguard Myanmar’s stable transition to multiparty democracy.

“We are still overcoming a lot of hardships. We need a stable march to multiparty democracy,” Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said in an interview with Japanese news agency Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 14.

The current state of parliamentary debate, administrative affairs and public participation in politics, as well as the actions of ethnic armed groups, show that the country still lacks stability in the political and security sectors, he said.

“The Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s military] has therefore taken those seats as a measure to ensure national stability. The situation will change if every sector is secured,” the senior general said.

He denied that Section 59 (f) of the 2008 Constitution, which bars State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency because her late spouse was a foreigner, is targeted at a particular individual.

Myanmar suffered a lot under colonial rule, and the power to shape the future of the country must be in the hands of the Myanmar people, he said. Therefore, the Tatmadaw will continue to back the provision, he said.

The National League for Democracy-led government was able to create the position of State Counselor—technically the second highest position after the President—for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Meanwhile, Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing is ranked eighth, according to protocol.

The senior general reiterated his support for amending Section 261 of the Constitution to allow regional legislatures to elect their chief ministers.

On Wednesday, the Union Solidarity and Development Party put forward a bill to amend the article. Currently, chief ministers are appointed by the president. The party said it submitted the proposal in cooperation with the Army.

According to political analysts, as the Tatmadaw also holds 25 percent of seats in regional parliaments, the amendment if approved would actually give the military greater influence.

According to political analyst U Maung Maung Soe, “Besides Section 261, other provisions should also be amended [regarding] ethnicities. I think the NLD’s move to amend the Constitution is intended to promote democracy. But the Tatmadaw won’t make many compromises,” he said.

Lower House lawmaker U Sai Kyaw Thiha said amending Section 261 alone will not guarantee ethnic rights, but added that “half a loaf was better than no bread at all”.

Regarding the military’s right to appoint 25 percent of lawmakers, U Sai Kyaw Thiha said, “The [Tatmadaw] should not think of itself as essential to state-building.”

As any amendment to the Constitution requires the approval of more than 75 percent of lawmakers, no amendment can be made without the consent of the Army.

When asked about the NLD’s recent move to amend the Constitution, the senior general said the Tatmadaw agreed in principle with amending the charter.

“We have never said no to constitutional amendment,” he said, adding that he believed it would be more appropriate and effective to carry out any amendments in line with Chapter XII of the Constitution, which lays out the procedures for amendment.

U Maung Maung Soe said, “Only amendments agreed to by both sides can be made. Otherwise, it would be difficult to amend because the approval of more than 75 percent of lawmakers is required.”

Former President U Thein Sein told reporters on Friday that amending the Constitution should not be done by lawmakers alone, adding that the groups that participated in the National Convention that drafted the 2008 Constitution, as well as signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, should also be invited to take part.

“It is not that [the Constitution] emerged easily. Of course, amendments must be made to meet the requirements of the time. But it is important that it is not amended easily,” he remarked.

Lawmakers met for a second time on Friday to try to form a committee to draft amendments to the Constitution. Military-appointed lawmaker Major-General Than Soe demanded that military lawmakers have 25 percent representation on the proposed committee.

The Tatmadaw had 25 percent representation on the 109-member constitutional review committee formed under the previous government, but the recently proposed 45-member committee would have only eight military-appointed lawmakers, or just 17 percent of the total.

“This ratio is not fair. We should have greater representation based on our number. So, I would like to request the inclusion of 11 or 12 [military appointees] on the committee,” he said.