Parliament Committee Favors Inclusive Constitutional Amendment

By San Yamin Aung 5 March 2019

YANGON—The Union Parliament’s joint bill committee has suggested that the USDP’s proposed amendment to Article 261 be examined as part of the broader review by the Charter-Amendment Panel tasked with examining the entire Constitution for amendments, to the disagreement of military lawmakers.

The draft bill amending Article 261 was initially proposed in Parliament last month by members of the party formed of ex-generals and military representatives which led the government before the NLD took power in 2016, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), in an attempt to counter the ruling National League for Democracy’s (NLD’s) efforts in amending the Constitution.

The USDP’s proposed bill only suggests amendments to a single article in the 2008 Constitution which as a whole has been widely criticized as undemocratic for its unpopular articles, especially those which grant the military privileged participation and a leadership role in Myanmar’s politics.

If approved, the amended article would see regional chief ministers elected by local legislatures rather than appointed by the president.

Meanwhile, the Charter Amendment Panel—formed on the NLD’s proposal to work on amending the military-drafted Constitution—has also begun reviewing the charter chapter by chapter, starting with the 48 Basic Principles of the Union in Chapter 1.

During Tuesday’s parliamentary session, Brig-Gen Maung Maung and Gen. Than Soe took to their feet to show their disapproval of the suggestions proposed by the Parliament’s joint bill committee. The two military appointees instead called for the draft bill to be discussed separately.

The joint bill committee is made up of 15 Lower House lawmakers and 15 Upper House lawmakers who were recently tasked with scrutinizing the USDP and military’s suggested amendment to Article 261 and to submit its report with remarks to the Parliament.

NLD lawmaker U Myat Nyana Soe, who is also a secretary of the joint bill committee, said that majority of committee members agreed with the suggestion to discuss changes to Article 261 in the Charter-Amendment Panel. But five members: two military representatives, two Rakhine lawmakers from the Arakan National Party (ANP) and one USDP lawmaker, disagreed with the suggestion when it was brought up during committee meetings.

He said the committee believes that if Article 261 is amended, other related articles in the Constitution will also need to be reviewed for changes and if they are not, there will be contradictions right across the Constitution. A bill amending each article would then need to be submitted to Parliament several times in order to avoid contradictions with the amendments to Article 261, he added.

He also said the proposed amendments to Article 261 would be discussed as part of the Charter-Amendment Panel’s review of the entire Constitution. The Charter-Amendment Panel is to report their findings to Parliament by July 17. It is also tasked with drafting an amendment bill based on the lawmakers’ discussions on its findings.

“It will be more systematic and suitable to discuss [the proposed amendments to Article 261] in the Charter-Amendment Panel’s review,” the joint bill committee’s secretary said.

The Parliament will vote on the committee’s suggestion in coming parliamentary sessions.

“[The committee’s suggestion] is against Parliament laws. We frequently say that the Parliament, which itself is making legislation, shouldn’t go against the laws in such a way. The draft bill must be discussed in Parliament,” Brig-Gen Maung Maung told the media after Tuesday’s parliamentary session.

Additional reporting by Htet Naing Zaw in Naypyitaw.