NAYPYITAW—Amid the ongoing efforts by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) to amend the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, a military-appointed lawmaker said it was the charter itself that created the conditions under which the party came to power.
As lawmakers debated proposed amendments to the Constitution submitted by the Charter Amendment Committee on Wednesday in the Union Parliament, military lawmaker Major Thuzar Shwe said: “It should not be forgotten that [former] President U Htin Kyaw, [current President] U Win Myint’s administration, this Parliament and parliamentary speakers—as well as the lawmakers, who enjoy a monthly salary of 1 million kyats—have achieved their current positions thanks to the current Constitution.”
“There is therefore a need to strictly abide by the existing laws, including the 2008 Constitution, and carry out our responsibilities righteously,” she said.
The NLD won the 2015 general elections and came to power the following year with its campaign promise to amend the 2008 Constitution. But it was in February—three years into its administration—that the party submitted a proposal to form a committee to draft amendments to the Constitution, a move viewed by some analysts as a political maneuver designed to score political points ahead of the 2020 general election.
The Parliament approved the NLD’s proposal to form the committee over military lawmakers’ strong objections that the process was unconstitutional.
The Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) is also unhappy about the result of a vote that will see a proposed amendment to the Charter’s Article 261 submitted by its proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party reviewed by the Charter Amendment Committee rather than by Parliament. The proposed amendment would have state and regional chief ministers elected by local legislatures rather than appointed by the Union President.
However, Monywa Aung Shin, the information officer for the NLD’s Central Executive Committee, told The Irrawaddy that under the circumstances, the NLD had no choice but to accept the Constitution when it came to power.
He said the 2008 Constitution is just a means to an end. “We have said from the outset that we don’t agree with the 2008 Constitution and we oppose it. But we contested [the poll] due to circumstances. Do they think we contested [the election] because we support it?” Monywa Aung Shin said.
“Our intention is to amend the 2008 Constitution. To realize our intention, we have had to do what is required in the circumstances. Are we supposed to cherish the 2008 Constitution forever? It is the policy of the party and the people [to amend the Constitution],” he said.
The regime led by military dictator Senior General Than Shwe that came to power through a coup in 1988 drafted the Constitution not out of goodwill toward the people, but to be able to withdraw from the political stage with ease following the 2007 Saffron Revolution, said Yangon-based lawyer U Kyee Myint.
“The 2008 Constitution emerged not because the military has pity for us, or likes us. They [drafted the Constitution] through coercion and bullying, and by saying the population was 57 million though it was actually 51 million [in order to rig the election]. They imposed laws that carry sentences of five to 20 years in prison for opposing the Constitution. The Constitution is intended to perpetuate the military dictatorship. So, there is no need to thank that law,” U Kyee Myint said.
Maj. Thuzar Shwe said that the previous government and the Parliament at that time took their oaths, worked for national development, held free and fair elections and handed over power to the current government under the 2008 Constitution.
The Charter Amendment Committee submitted a report containing over 3,700 proposed amendments to Parliament in July.
Though the debate is supposed to focus on the amendment proposals themselves, military lawmakers have limited their arguments so far to criticizing the formation of the Charter Amendment Committee.