Parliament Proposes High-Level Charter Talks

By Zarni Mann 25 November 2014

MANDALAY — Burma’s Union Parliament passed an urgent proposal on Tuesday calling for a six-member roundtable meeting about constitutional reform.

The proposal, submitted by Upper House parliamentarian Myint Tun of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, requests a meeting between President Thein Sein, speakers Shwe Mann and Khin Aung Myint, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and an ethnic representative that has yet to be selected.

“The meeting is important as the country needs to have a proper Constitution in order to create a better future,” said Pe Than, a Lower House representative of Myay Pone in Arakan State.

Lawmakers said that the meeting could be a major step toward reform, as military opposition to amendment of the controversial Article 436, which guarantees them veto power over most amendments to the charter, has brought progress to a standstill. The article has become the cornerstone in campaigns for constitutional reform because changing it would make further revisions much easier to achieve.

Pe Than clarified that while the proposal for a high-level roundtable meeting was approved by Parliament, it has not yet been accepted by the other parties.

“Without acceptance from the president and the commander in chief, our proposal will be in vain. We urge them to accept it for the sake of peace, stability and national reconciliation,” he said.

While a majority of parliamentarians supported the proposal for a meeting, some expressed doubt that it would have much impact.

“I don’t have high hopes for this [meeting] because I don’t think the president can persuade the commander in chief,” said Phone Myint Aung, a member of the Upper House. “Why would [the Burma Army] allow for the change of article 436 when it would cost them opportunities?”

Suu Kyi, chairperson of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party and the face of Burma’s constitutional reform movement, told reporters after the assembly that she does not oppose the idea of high-level discussions.

“I do not oppose this proposal. This shows that the Parliament agrees that high-level leaders should have these discussions, and I consider this an improvement,” Suu Kyi said outside of Parliament on Tuesday.

Suu Kyi and her party have long called for a sit-down between herself, the president, the military chief and the speaker to discuss the issue of charter reform.

That request is still unfulfilled, though the government called a 14-member roundtable meeting with a much broader scope in late October. The talks did not result in any publicly discernable progress.

Burma’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution has come under immense criticism for clauses that enshrine military control over Parliament and prevent Suu Kyi from becoming president. A committee was created in 2013 to review the charter and recommend amendments.

Shwe Mann announced earlier this month that parliament would conclude its debate on constitutional reform on Nov. 25, by which point future changes will have already been agreed upon.

The speaker added that some amendments would require a referendum after parliamentary approval which would be held in May 2015, but no changes would be implemented until after a general election slated for late 2015.

Additional reporting by Htet Naing Zaw.