NLD Urges Public ‘Not to Worry’ Amid Military Warnings over Charter Reform

By San Yamin Aung 25 February 2019

YANGON—Amid rising tension between the military and the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) over constitutional reform, the party’s spokesperson urged the public not to worry, promising that the Constitution would be amended in accordance with ethnic people’s wishes.

“What we are doing is within a legal framework. We [the NLD] always maintain a policy of non-violence, so nothing will happen that will harm the public. I urge people not to worry,” Dr. Myo Nyunt told The Irrawaddy on Monday, calling on the public to overwhelmingly support the party’s efforts.

Senior leaders of the military, or Tatmadaw, warned at a press conference in Yangon on Saturday that the NLD’s move to form a joint committee tasked with amending the military-drafted Constitution, “breached constitutional rules and parliamentary by-laws,” and reiterated the views expressed by military appointees in Parliament.

“We will need to wait and see what the results and consequences are [of breaching the constitutional rules],” Major-General Tun Tun Nyi said at the press conference.

The NLD has questioned the military’s objection to its formation of the joint committee, pointing out that under the previous government led by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Parliament also initiated a process of constitutional amendment. A committee was formed to review the proposed amendments, and only after that was a bill to amend the Constitution submitted to Parliament.

The USDP-dominated Parliament only amended a few minor articles of the Constitution, and the effort was generally seen as ineffective.

“The USDP did just as we are doing in terms of constitutional amendments… Why do they [the military] only oppose it now, while they didn’t oppose the formation of the committee as unconstitutional [when the USDP was in power]?” NLD vice chairman Dr. Zaw Myint Maung told local media on Sunday.

From the outset, the military appointees, who hold 25 percent of seats in Parliament as stipulated in the Constitution, have cited Chapter 12 of the charter in their rejection of the NLD’s proposal to form the committee.

They said that at least 20 percent of lawmakers must agree to a bill’s submission before it can be discussed in Parliament. The committee was formed after a majority of votes—from the NLD and other ethnic party members in Parliament—agreed to do so.

The senior officers repeated during Saturday’s press conference that the military’s main duty is “safeguarding the charter” and strongly warned that they wouldn’t tolerate any amendments that harm the “essence” of the Constitution, referring to the 48 basic principles of the Union stated in Chapter 1 of the charter.

NLD spokesperson Dr. Myo Nyunt told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the essence of the Constitution should be public representation and the deriving of the Union’s sovereign power from the public.

“But if they see maintaining the Tatmadaw’s important role [in politics] as the essence, I would say we don’t share the same view on that,” he said.

He added that the proposed amendments to the Constitution will only be submitted after all members of the amendment panel, including ethnic parties and independent candidates, reach a common agreement.

“It seems that they [the military] want to amend the Constitution as they desire. But we will amend it as per the wishes of all ethnic people,” the spokesperson added.