Naypyidaw Authorities Block NLD Poll on Constitutional Reform

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 15 November 2013

RANGOON — Authorities in Burma’s capital Naypyidaw are preventing Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) from conducting a public opinion poll on the need for constitutional reform, a NLD lawmaker said on Friday.

The NLD is keen to amend the military-drafted Constitution and has been conducting public surveys at cities in the country, asking respondents whether they think the Constitution should be amended or redrafted.

The NLD had planned to hold a survey in Naypyidaw on Monday and party leader Suu Kyi was supposed to deliver a public speech in one of the city’s townships, after which NLD members would conduct a poll among those who attend the event.

Authorities in Naypyidaw, Burma’s political capital that was meticulously planned and built by the former military regime from 2002 to 2006, have, however, refused to grant permission for the event.

“We’ve already got permission for the assembly from the township’s police chief, but now the township administrator objects to it,” said Sandar Win, a NLD lawmaker from Zabuthiri Township, where the survey event would be held.

“They said the rally ground is close to some government offices and schools, so that a large public presence would cause traffic accidents and so on. They asked us to move another place,” she added, “but there is no legal evidence for this in their request.”

A copy of a letter by Zabuthiri Township Police on Thursday explained that administrative officials decided not to grant permission for the event because “the NLD request for permission is incomplete,” adding that the party should seek permission to hold the event at a different site.

According to Burmese law, any planned peaceful assembly needs prior government permission. Zabuthiri Township administration officials could not be reached for comment on their decision.

Sandar Min said the party has followed correct legal procedure to seek permission. She added that the venue would have ample space for nearly 20,000 people from the capital’s eight townships, who would be invited to join the poll.

“So now it’s quite difficult for us to find another place at the last minute as there’s nowhere else here in Naypyidaw,” the lawmaker told The Irrawaddy on Friday afternoon.

She said the party is trying to submit another request for permission for the event to the township administration office. “We have to explain them our difficulties, and that our activity is not against the law,” said she.

The NLD considers the current Constitution undemocratic because it gives the military 25 percent of parliamentary seats and makes NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi ineligible for president because she was married to a foreigner.

Ethnic minority parties oppose a provision in the Constitution that requires chief ministers in their regions to be appointed by the central government.

In October, Suu Kyi’s party announced that it would hold public opinion polls on the question of whether to amend or totally scrap and rewrite Burma’s Constitution.

Since then, the NLD has held public talks on the Constitution and polling events. Last Sunday’s survey in Rangoon drew nearly 20,000 attendants and 90 percent of them supported amending the Constitution, the NLD has said.

The controversial charter was written by the former military regime and passed in a referendum in 2008 that was widely seen as a sham. It allows for amendments but does not include any provisions about redrawing a new document.

Ethnic political parties and rebel groups that have reached ceasefire agreements with the central government have called in recent months for an opportunity to write a new Constitution, which they say would be faster and easier than separate amendments.

Sandar Min said she thinks it’s likely that Naypyidaw authorities are worried as they have never encountered such a large public rally in the capital.

“They might feel afraid as they have never experienced anything like this,” she said. “Even the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party still hasn’t organized it.”