NLD Claims Overwhelming Public Support for Amending Constitution

By Zarni Mann 18 November 2013

RANGOON — An opinion poll conducted by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party has indicated overwhelming public support for amending Burma’s Constitution, according to the NLD office in Naypyidaw, where the survey was taken.

“Eighty-eight percent of 25,000 people who attended the poll were in agreement on amending the Constitution. Eight percent favored rewriting the whole Constitution, while the remainder were neutral,” said Zarni, the president of the opposition NLD’s Naypyidaw office.

The NLD’s public poll in the capital’s Zabuthiri Township, was attended by citizens of Naypyidaw and beyond, together with NLD members from Rangoon and Mandalay.

Though the result confirms widespread perceptions that public opinion favors amending the Constitution, the Monday poll’s methodology hardly passes as scientifically credible. Whereas professional polling requires that a random sampling be surveyed, the NLD simply asked citizens to show up and voice their opinion.

Authorities initially refused on Friday to grant permission for the poll taking, citing the planned event’s close proximity to schools and government offices as justification for the denial. The local government reversed course a day later, giving the green light for the NLD event, at which party chairwoman Suu Kyi delivered a speech.

Suu Kyi slammed those with “phony smiles” who are opposed to amending the Constitution, repeating an oft-uttered claim that changing the Constitution was critical to Burma’s future.

“I respect those who say frankly that they absolutely cannot accept the amendment of the Constitution. But I would say do not vote in the upcoming election to those who try to convince the public with cunning tricks and phony smiles to amend only the very minor issues of the Constitution. Those kinds of people are not committed to serving the country but are instead working for themselves or their organization,” Suu Kyi said.

“Amending the Constitution is a must for peace, stability and the development of the country,” she added. “If there is no willingness to amend the Constitution, that means there’s no willingness to create peace, stability and development.”

Suu Kyi said that with the formation of a parliamentary committee to review the 2008 Constitution, the opportunity to amend the document had never been better. The opposition leader added that she welcomed the committee’s input and urged its members to conduct their review with the good of the country and its citizens in mind.

Parliament’s Constitutional Review Joint Committee, set up in July and consisting of 109 lawmakers, was tasked with taking input from a wide range of stakeholders on whether—and in what ways—to amend the Constitution. The deadline to take public opinion and suggestions regarding the Constitution is Dec. 31.

“Our citizens must have knowledge about this Constitution,” Suu Kyi said. “There are many chapters that are very important for the future of the country, while there are many unimportant, minor chapters. Study it and decide freely whether amendments are needed or not.

“We don’t want your agreement just because you were told by me or the NLD. Decide on your own,” she urged.

Suu Kyi also said that the lack of rule of law in Burma was in part due to the absence of an independent judicial system.

“The judiciary must be free from the governance of the state. For that, we need to revise the Constitution,” she said.

The NLD, which is aggressively pushing for amendments to the controversial Constitution, began a public surveying campaign on the matter last month. A similar poll in Rangoon on Nov. 10 saw more than 99 percent of 20,000 respondents agree on a need to amend the Constitution.

“We are doing these events to discuss the Constitution openly with the public,” Suu Kyi said. “I would like to urge the military parliamentarians as well not to look out only for the military but for the people. If the citizens strongly back you, the military will not be weakened.”

The controversial Constitution was written by the former military government. It allows for amendments but doing so requires the approval of a full 75 percent of lawmakers.

The Constitution was passed in a referendum in 2008, just a week after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country’s Irrawaddy Delta region. The result, in which more than 90 percent of voters supported the Constitution, was widely criticized as illegitimate.