Parliament Votes Against Constitution Reform, Reserves Military Veto

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 25 June 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s Union Parliament on Thursday voted against major changes to the nation’s Constitution, keeping a military stronghold on the legislature firmly in place.

In a secret ballot vote attended by 583 lawmakers, 67 percent voted in favor, just shy of the 75-plus minimum required for passage.

The bill recommended amendments to several controversial clauses in the charter, which was drafted by the military in 2008.

Most notably, it sought to reduce a benchmark for votes on some amendments, which effectively grants veto power to an unelected military contingent.

Articles 436(a) and (b) require more than 75 percent of lawmakers to vote in favor for designated changes to the charter, ironically including Thursday’s vote, while a separate provision reserves 25 percent of seats for military appointees. The amendment bill recommended reducing the requirement to 70 percent to check military power.

The bill also recommended altering section 59(f), which makes those who have a foreign spouse or child ineligible for the presidency. The clause is largely viewed as a deliberate attempt to keep opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose sons are British citizens, out of office.

Suu Kyi addressed the press after the session, claiming the bill’s failure would ultimately benefit her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

“People are now crystal clear about who they have to support,” Suu Kyi said. Her colleague, NLD lawmaker Win Myint, expressed similar sentiments.

“Now people clearly know who is not interested in reform and the wishes of the people,” Win Myint said. “They know which party they should vote for [to achieve] democracy and reform.”

After boycotting a general election in 2010, the NLD joined by-elections in April 2012 with an eventual eye toward constitutional reform. The party has spent the years since rallying nationwide for public support, as most amendments—after being approved by Parliament—still require more than 50 percent approval in a national referendum.

While the NLD has vowed to “keep pushing for change,” Constitutional lawyer Ko Ni recommended a more radical approach in light of the difficulties of retrofitting the document.

“Some people think that changing the Constitution will be easier after the 2015 election because the opposition and ethnic [minority] parties will have more seats in Parliament,” Ko Ni told The Irrawaddy. “They are daydreaming. As long as you don’t have approval from the Commander-in-Chief, you can’t do anything.”

Editor’s note, June 26, 2015: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that 538 lawmakers attended Thursday’s vote. The actual number of atendees was 583.