NLD Urges Parliament to Hear Millions of Voices for Charter Change

By San Yamin Aung 6 August 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s main opposition party and the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society on Wednesday urged Parliament to seriously consider the millions of signatories to a petition calling for changes to the constitutional article that gives the military a veto over amendments to the charter.

The signature campaign organized by the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in collaboration with the 88 Generation group, which calls for a change to Article 436 of the Constitution, began on May 27 and ended July 19.

“We have collected nearly five million signatures from 308 townships. But we are still counting signatures from some townships in Shan and Kachin states because they have had transportation and security difficulties in sending them back to us,” NLD spokesman Nyan Win told The Irrawaddy.

In Shan State, signatures from 28 townships remain to be counted out of 54 townships in total. In Kachin State, only signatures from 12 townships have been tallied out of 21 in total. Signatures from one township in Chin State and Mandalay Division also have yet to be counted, according to the NLD.

“When we submit them to the Union Parliament, we expect that the millions of people’s desire in signing the petition will be deeply esteemed and also each lawmaker and party will take into consideration a change to Article 436,” said prominent activist Ko Ko Gyi of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, at a joint press conference in Rangoon on Wednesday.

The current Constitution was written by Burma’s former military regime and guarantees the military a role in national politics, as well as bars NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president. It is also criticized by ethnic minority groups who demand more autonomy from the central government.

Just days after Cyclone Nargis hit Burma in 2008, the military government reported that 92 percent of the population had voted in support of the new Constitution in a referendum. That vote was widely seen as a sham.

“[We are] not here to argue over the percentage of the population that supported it [in 2008], but during the campaigning period, it was clearly revealed that there was no explanation to the public about the Constitution—people were not informed about the Constitution,” Ko Ko Gyi said.

He said that his group and the NLD had held rallies in cities across the country during the signature campaign in order to explain the Constitution’s contents to the public.

“I think that is a huge benefit of the signature campaign. We got the chance to explain about the Constitution’s provisions, which were drawn up one-sidedly, and we raised the public’s political awareness,” he said.

Article 436 states that constitutional reform can only take place with the support of more than 75 percent of lawmakers. This gives effective veto power to the unelected military lawmakers who are guaranteed 25 percent of seats in the legislature.

“Article 436 will change someday, it is only a matter of time, because everyone understands that it should be amended,” said NLD spokesperson Nyan Win.

Burma’s Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann told reporters during a press conference in Naypyidaw last month that the Parliamentary Constitutional Amendment Implementation Committee would discuss possible reforms in accordance with instructions provided by Parliament and would therefore not consider the results of the NLD’s signature campaign.

“They are collecting [signatures for a] petition as they want. [But] this action won’t affect the implementing committee formed by Parliament,” he said on July 3.