Parliament Votes to Postpone Planned Charter Referendum

By San Yamin Aung 22 July 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s Union Parliament voted on Wednesday to postpone a national referendum on constitutional change which was expected to be held concurrently with the national election on November 8.

The referendum concerns amending a single provision of the military-drafted charter—Article 59(d), which currently states that the president and vice-presidents should be familiar with “political, administrative, economic and military” affairs.

In late June, MPs agreed that the word “defense” should replace the current word “military.”

The Constitution requires a nationwide referendum to change certain charter provisions if they are first approved by more than 75 percent of lawmakers.

Five other proposed changes to the charter were voted down in the same ballot on June 25, with military lawmakers believed to have exercised their effective parliamentary veto to block the changes.

Union Parliament speaker Shwe Mann announced earlier this month that the charter referendum would be held jointly with the general election to save on polling expenditures, but the country’s Parliament approved a delay in the referendum on Wednesday, in line with advice from the Union Election Commission (UEC).

Min Thu, a Lower House lawmaker with the National League for Democracy (NLD), said that the vast majority of MPs voted to postpone the referendum after Shwe Mann conveyed a request from UEC chairman Tin Aye.

At a press conference at the UEC information center in Rangoon on Wednesday, Tin Aye told reporters that he would need an additional 4 billion kyat to hold the referendum alongside the election.

This money would cover fielding an extra three officers at each polling station around the country as well as more ballot boxes and ballot papers, Tin Aye said.

Prior to the parliamentary vote, Tin Aye told reporters: “If I have to hold it, I will, but they need to allow us a budget of 4 billion kyat for that. But there is not much impact in amending the article from ‘military’ to ‘defense.’”

Khin San Hlaing, another Lower House MP for the NLD, said it was appropriate to postpone the referendum which would only determine whether to change a single word in the charter and would only complicate the process for voters.

“People aren’t interested in [amending that clause],” she said. “If it was 59(f) instead, they would probably be interested.”

Article 59(f) of the Constitution is the controversial clause that states that the president may not be married to or have children who are foreign nationals—effectively barring Aung San Suu Kyi whose sons are British.