YANGON — Myanmar’s military-appointed parliamentarians and the allied Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) strongly rejected proposed constitutional amendments to weaken the military’s political power.
The reforms sought to reduce the number of unelected military lawmakers, to remove the commander-in-chief’s right to take power during a state of emergency and to repeal Article 59(f) that prevents anyone with a foreign spouse and children from becoming president.
“It is too early to reduce the percentage of military parliamentarians during a time of instability,” said USDP lawmaker U Tin Aye, referring to the proposal by the National League for Democracy (NLD).
The NLD has proposed a reduction to the military’s share of seats from the current 25 percent to 15 percent after the 2020 general election to 10 percent after 2025 and 5 percent after 2030.
A quarter of all national and regional seats are occupied by unelected military officers under the Constitution’s Article 14.
Ethnic parliamentarians supported the amendment.
But U Tin Aye said the military’s political involvement was necessary as the democratic transition was still in its early stages. Meanwhile, ethnic conflicts raged and there was international intervention in internal affairs, he said during the Wednesday debate.
The Union Parliament on Tuesday started debating the proposed amendments to the Constitution submitted by the NLD and ethnic parties and other proposals by the military and the USDP.
Military lawmaker Major Htet Linn, who took part in the constitutional debate on Tuesday, also opposed the NLD amendments to Article 14 and other related provisions.
The major said it was important to have the military in leadership roles to establish a “disciplined, multiparty democracy” as the country’s transition was facing threats to national sovereignty, the rule of law and stability.
“There would be undesirable consequences of reducing the number of military lawmakers before the armed conflicts are ended and peace is established,” he told Parliament.
The military and the USDP also raised strong opposition to the amendment of Article 40(c). It grants sovereign power to the commander-in-chief during a state of emergency that could disintegrate the country, cause a loss of sovereign power or in the face of attempts to take power through force, including an insurgency or other forms of violence.
Critics say the article hands the military chief the power to stage a coup.
The NLD proposed that Parliament shall determine how the president should take command during an emergency.
Military lawmaker Colonel Naing Oo said the article was to allow the Tatmadaw (military) to preserve the state to preserve the union, national solidarity and sovereignty. The colonel said during an emergency it would be impossible to negotiate a plan under the NLD’s proposed amendment.
“It is funny that the Parliament has to approve a plan that the president can take over in a situation where the president can’t control the situation,” USDP lawmaker U Maung Myint told the chamber.
“In such circumstances, is it impossible for the president to [maintain order]. Think about it,” he said.
The NLD’s proposal to remove Article 59(f) also faced heavy opposition from the military and USDP.
It was widely criticized as being designed to exclude Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – whose children are British – from the presidency.
“We need to consider carefully the risks the country faces if we make a person with foreign allegiance the head of state,” said Brigadier General Tint Lwin.
The military appointees have also sought to extend that limitation to ministers and regional chief ministers in their proposed constitutional amendments.
The debates will continue until next Thursday.
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