Parliament to Resume with Remaining ‘Protection Bills’ High on Agenda

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 12 August 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s Union Parliament is set to reconvene on Aug. 18 with two remaining “Protection Bills” expected to pass during the final legislative session before a Nov. 8 general election, according to lawmakers.

The joint session was initially postponed due to severe flooding that affected several parts of the country. The Union Parliament Office announced on Tuesday that the session must be held in a timely manner despite concerns that many lawmakers may still be dealing with fallout from the disaster.

Topping the agenda will be two controversial bills that complete a controversial legislative package referred to as the “Race and Religion Protection Bills”, which were advanced by a powerful nationalist Buddhist organization known as the Ma Ba Tha.

The Religious Conversion Bill and the Polygamy Bill will be up for debate and are likely to be approved with little disruption, according to lawmaker Ye Tun of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), who said they are expected “to be approved soon this time.”

The two other laws—the Population Control Health Care Law and the Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Act—were passed earlier this year despite heavy criticism from rights advocates and the international community.

Critics claim the laws violate women’s reproductive rights, curb religious freedoms and could be used to target minorities.

Khin San Hlaing, a member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), said she also expects the laws to be high on the agenda, while other issues—such as new laws about mining and condominiums—are likely to be pushed back until after the election.

“These laws are also important, so they shouldn’t be approved in a short time,” she said. Khin San Hlaing said lawmakers will also need time to discuss next year’s national budget before heading out on the campaign trail. Burma’s fiscal year begins in April.

The USDP’s Ye Tun also said that issues related to the recent flood crisis will also dominate the session, as many lawmakers will have just returned from affected constituencies with fresh data on regional damage and needs assessments.

“We have submitted this data to Parliament, but we still don’t know what will happen,” he said.