NLD’s Bid to End Myanmar Military’s Constitutional Grip on National Security Voted Down

By San Yamin Aung 19 March 2020

YANGON—Constitutional amendment proposals by Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) that would have ended the defense services’ absolute authority over all national armed forces, as well as its exclusive role in safeguarding the country, were voted down in Parliament on Thursday.

Like the party’s previous attempts to limit the military’s important role in politics and special privileges granted under the charter, the proposals failed to receive the required support of more than 75 percent of lawmakers.

The NLD sought to revoke Article 338, which states, “All the armed forces in the Union shall be under the command of the Defense Services,” and Article 339, which states, “The Defense Services shall lead in safeguarding the Union against all internal and external dangers.” The latter can be interpreted as giving the institution sole, undiluted power in this sphere.

Article 338 is one of the most controversial constitutional articles, and one that pro-democracy activists have long targeted for amendment. They want to see the Police Department administered by its own ministry controlled by the civilian government. Currently, the department is under the Home Affairs Ministry, whose minister is an army general appointed by the commander-in-chief.

Both proposals received 407 votes, accounting for about 63 percent of lawmakers.

The Union Parliament voted on proposed amendments, additions and/or repeals of 14 provisions of the Constitution on Thursday. All were rejected except for an amendment to Article 344.

The approved amendment to Article 344, proposed by the NLD, will change a Burmese-language reference to “disabled military officers”. It brings to four the number of charter amendments approved after nearly two weeks of balloting.

Also rejected were a number of the NLD’s civil rights-related proposals, which sought to end forced labor under any circumstances, including hard labor imposed as a punishment on duly convicted criminals, and to ensure that no person shall be held in custody for more than 24 hours without the remand of a competent magistrate.

Military-appointed lawmakers are seen in the Union Parliament last week. / Thiha Lwin / The Irrawaddy

Another NLD proposal to change the minimum support required to submit a complaint seeking the removal of a lawmaker also failed to pass. The party sought to raise the required support from 1 percent to 20 percent of voters in the lawmaker’s constituency.

Surprisingly, a proposal submitted jointly by the USDP and the military to allow the Constitutional Tribunal of the Union to determine whether measures taken by Union-level agencies are in conformity with the Constitution received only 30 votes in favor—the least amount of support for an amendment proposal since lawmakers began voting on the charter amendments on March 10.

Friday will be the last day of parliamentary voting on constitutional amendments. As of Thursday, only four amendments—none of which involve political reforms—had received the required support of more than 75 percent of MPs.

NLD lawmakers have acknowledged that while the party knew its charter change efforts’ chances of success were slim, it had not anticipated the rejection of almost all of its proposed amendments, including even changes to some of the language in certain provisions.

NLD Upper House lawmaker Dr Myat Nyana Soe said that as long as those who oppose genuine reforms sit in Parliament, reform, development and peace would continue to elude Myanmar.

“Nonetheless, we will continue to push for charter reform in the next Parliament [after this year’s election],” he said.

Additional reporting by Thiha Lwin in Naypyitaw

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