Myanmar’s Main Opposition Party Quits Charter Amendment Committee

By San Yamin Aung 17 December 2019

YANGON—The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Myanmar’s main opposition party, has quit the Parliament’s Charter Amendment Committee in a show of disapproval at its process for drafting a bill to amend the Constitution.

Union Parliament Speaker U T Khun Myat informed the Parliament on Tuesday that the two USDP lawmakers on the committee, U Sai Kyaw Moe and U Hsi Hu Dwe, have resigned from their committee positions. Their resignation brings the total number of representatives who have walked out of the committee to five. In September, three lawmakers from the Arakan National Party (ANP) and the National United Democratic Party (NUD) also resigned.

USDP member U Sai Kyaw Moe told reporters in Naypyitaw that the two resigned from the committee as they were unhappy with the voting system used by the committee to determine which of the changes proposed by political parties would be added to the bill.

He said that despite claims by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) that the committee is an inclusive body, only the NLD’s proposed changes to the Constitution are considered for inclusion in the bill, given the party’s dominance on the committee.

NLD lawmaker U Aung Kyi Nyunt, a member of the Charter Amendment Committee, denied the USDP member’s claim that only changes proposed by the NLD have been considered.

He said ethnic parties are also giving their opinions on the proposed changes at committee meetings, and all opinions have been recorded. He said the NLD and ethnic parties on the committee have shared their views on many proposed amendments to the charter, adding that the committee will continue drafting the amendment bill and is expected to finish next month.

The Charter Amendment Committee—the mechanism that the NLD has used to push constitutional reform—was formed with 45 members from 14 political parties, independent representatives and members of the military bloc in Parliament in February.

The parties were offered seats on the committee in proportion to the number of seats they hold in Parliament. The NLD holds 18 seats, the military holds eight and the USDP had two on the committee.

The military representatives have maintained their original stance of disapproval and insisted that the formation of the committee was unconstitutional, taking part in the committee’s meetings but making no proposals.

On Tuesday, the Parliament voted to send a constitutional amendment bill that was jointly submitted by the military and USDP in September to the Charter Amendment Committee for review. The military and USDP-drafted amendment bill includes broader powers for the military-dominated National Defense and Security Council (NDSC).

The Parliament’s Bill Committee had suggested that the draft bill be reviewed by the Charter Amendment Committee instead of being discussed by the full Parliament, as the bill has been submitted in parallel to the charter committee’s work. The military and the USDP raised strong objections to the Bill Committee’s suggestions.

During Tuesday’s parliamentary session, a military-appointed lawmaker stood up in protest at the Speaker’s call to vote on whether to proceed with the Bill Committee’s suggestion.

“We have no idea about the timeframe and the working frame of the [Charter Amendment Committee], nor about when they will finish their task. So, I request to discuss the bill with the Parliament instead of having it reviewed by the committee,” the military appointee said.

Speaker U T Khun Myat said the committee would be able to finish just as soon as the Parliament and declined the military appointee’s request.

The speaker continued with the vote on the issue, saying it was required under the Constitution and parliamentary law. In the final vote, 357 lawmakers voted to forward the bill to the Charter Amendment Committee as per the Bill Committee’s suggestion, while 200 lawmakers objected.

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