Myanmar Military’s Promises of Charter Change Fail to Impress Ethnic MPs

By Htet Naing Zaw 30 October 2019

NAYPYITAW – Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has suggested prioritizing the demands of ethnic communities in amending the 2008 Constitution.

Speaking at the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) on Monday, Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said: “In serving the interests of the people, the Tatmadaw [military] has always treated ethnic issues as a priority. Therefore, I think there is a need to prioritize the demands of ethnic groups in the constitutional amendment process.”

Ethnic armed organizations were fighting for self-determination and it should be handled as the top priority to achieve peace, he said.

The Tatmadaw, which constitutionally reserves 25 percent of seats in the Union and sub-national parliaments, strongly opposes the National League for Democracy (NLD)’s efforts to amend the Constitution, saying it is against constitutional procedures.

What the Tatmadaw was doing contradicted the military chief’s statement, said ethnic parliamentarians in Naypyitaw.

“They said they are working for constitutional reforms and self-determination in good faith. But in reality, there is friction with them in the Parliament and they are acting against their statements,” said Lower House member U Sai Tun Aye of Shan State’s Mong Hsu Township.

Some provisions regarding the legislative power of regional parliaments were amended under the previous government, giving them greater power in legislation. The regional parliaments, however, could not enact laws to assert greater autonomy, said Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.

“Self-determination is a broad concept, but we haven’t seen any move to enable it in the Parliament [by the Tatmadaw]. We haven’t seen any cooperation by the Tatmadaw. Amending Article 261 is not enough [for self-determination],” said U Sai Tun Aye, who represents the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy.

The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party in February submitted a proposed amendment to Article 261. The proposed amendment would allow state and regional chief ministers to be selected by the regional parliaments rather than directly appointed by the Union President.

The Union Parliament decided that the proposal should be discussed by the charter amendment committee, which was formed in February as proposed by the NLD to draft amendments to the Constitution.

U Pe Than of the Arakan National Party said amending Article 261 alone did not amount to self-determination. He called for a greater degree of decentralization of power, as well as sharing of resources with ethnic-minority states.

“Lip service alone is not enough. Whether [Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing’s] statement is true, we will have to see how much he is willing to accept the demands of ethnicities when making constitutional amendments or at the 21st-Century Panglong Peace Conference,” said U Pe Than.

The NLD won the 2015 general election with a campaign promise to amend the Constitution but it only started to take steps towards charter change three years into its administration.

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told Japan’s Nikkei Asian Review on Oct. 23 that the military-drafted Constitution must be changed to achieve “complete democracy” but that this would not occur before the next general election in late 2020.

“So far we have been debating in our Parliament, and as I’ve noticed, the military is not overly enthusiastic about the amendments that we have suggested,” said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

During a parliamentary debate on charter amendments in August, military-appointed parliamentarians said the NLD should be grateful to the Constitution because it enabled the party to achieve its current position.

The Parliament has completed its debates on the proposed amendments to the Constitution but it is unlikely that the changes will be passed due to objections from the Tatmadaw.