Myanmar Military MPs to Debate Charter Reform en Masse, Defend Political Power

By The Irrawaddy 18 February 2020

YANGON—Military lawmakers are showing unprecedented levels of participation as nearly all have registered to join an upcoming parliamentary debate on bills to amend Myanmar’s Constitution, which would limit the role of the military and its leadership in politics.

The Union Parliament announced late last month the submission of two constitutional amendment bills with 114 amendments proposed by the National League for Democracy (NLD) and seven other political parties. The bills were drafted by the Charter Amendment Committee over the past 11 months and signed by 351 out of over 650 lawmakers. The bills are now open for discussion but the exact date for the debate has yet to be set.

Of 166 appointed military lawmakers, 164 are registered to join the debate along with 118 elected lawmakers—69 from the ruling NLD and 49 from ethnic parties—for a total of 282.

The then-military government drafted and approved the current Constitution through a so-called referendum. It has been criticized at home and abroad for being undemocratic. Since taking office in 2016, the NLD government has made fixing the charter a priority.

The amendment bills submitted last month include proposals that would gradually remove unelected military lawmakers from Parliament as well as removing Article 20(c), which states that “the commander-in-chief is the supreme commander of all armed forces.”

The military, which considers itself “the guardian of the Constitution,” sees the proposals as a threat and the upcoming debate in Parliament will likely be heated.

The bills also include proposals to amend Article 436, which grants the military an effective veto over any proposed constitutional changes. It suggests changing the requirement for approving a charter amendment from more than 75 percent of Parliament to “two-thirds of elected representatives,” in both Article 436(a) and Article 436(b), removing the unelected military lawmakers’ veto power.

The bills also include a proposal to repeal Article 59(f), which effectively bars State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of the current government, from becoming president.

The military and its allies in the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) raised strong objections to the formation of the Charter Amendment Committee, calling the process pushed by the NLD and ethnic parties unconstitutional. Instead of working with the committee, the military and the USDP submitted five constitutional amendment bills of their own, all of which seek to protect their interests.

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