Myanmar Military, USDP Charter Amendment Proposals to be Reviewed by Panel

By San Yamin Aung 4 September 2019

YANGON—Myanmar’s Union Parliament on Wednesday voted to have the Charter Amendment Committee discuss constitutional amendments proposed by military-appointed and Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lawmakers.

The Charter Amendment Committee is currently drafting a constitutional amendment bill.

Military representatives in Parliament and USDP lawmakers proposed four constitutional amendments—to articles 248(c), 264, 322 and 402—in May, seeking, among other things, to limit the president’s executive power in states and regions.

Their efforts were made in parallel with those of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), which is also seeking to amend the undemocratic, military-drafted Constitution.

The Union Parliament’s joint bill committee, formed to scrutinize the four proposed changes, recommended on Aug. 15 that the proposed amendments be discussed by the Charter Amendment Committee—the path the NLD has paved for making constitutional amendments.

If the committee does not take the four proposals into discussion, both the military-USDP efforts and the NLD efforts will be debated in Parliament in parallel, the committee said.

The Charter Amendment Committee, created by the NLD to examine the entire Constitution and submit a draft amendment bill to the Parliament, has compiled more than 3,700 recommended changes collected from the various parties.

In the past two weeks, military and USDP lawmakers have raised strong objections to the bill committee’s suggestion that their proposed changes be discussed by the Charter Amendment Committee, whose very existence they rejected as “unconstitutional.” They’re calling for the bill to continue being discussed with the participation of the full parliament instead.

The bill committee’s secretary, U Myat Nyana Soe, said on Wednesday that the committee has no more to say about its suggestion, and that it’s up to lawmakers in Parliament to decide.

“We submitted the committee’s report [with suggestions] for the bill, and we have clearly mentioned the different opinions of the majority of bill committee members. We would just like to seek the Parliament’s approval on our report,” he said.

A total of 376 lawmakers voted in favor of the committee’s suggestion while 203 opposed it and four abstained from the vote.

“We have objected to and debated it [the committee’s suggestion]. Despite how much we discuss it, finally, as usual, they approve it with a vote. They claim it’s democracy but their action is not understandable,” Brigadier General Maung Maung, who leads the military’s 25-percent bloc in Parliament, told lawmakers in Napyitaw after the parliamentary session.

Brig-Gen Maung Maung has referred in the past to parliamentary votes on attempts to amend the Constitution as “democracy-bullying” because the legislature is dominated by the NLD.

In fact, any amendment to the Constitution requires the approval of more than 75 percent of all lawmakers. Because the military-drafted Constitution gives 25 percent of seats in Parliament to lawmakers it appoints, the military maintains de facto veto power over any proposed changes.

In February, USDP and military-appointed lawmakers also proposed making a single amendment to Article 261 of the Constitution, to have state and regional chief ministers elected through local legislatures rather than appointed by the president. The Parliament also voted to discuss that single amendment in the panel rather than by the full Parliament.

Moe Moe contributed reporting from Naypyitaw.