Parliamentary Debate Begins on Constitutional Reform Bill

By Nyein Nyein 23 June 2015

Lawmakers took up a proposed constitutional amendment bill at the Union Parliament on Tuesday, with deliberations scheduled to continue through Thursday, when a vote on changes to the contentious charter is expected.

Tuesday’s discussion was confined to four key clauses, with parliamentarians debating provisions on requirements for amending the Constitution (Article 436), qualifications for the presidency (Articles 59 and 60) and the military’s role in the event that a state of emergency is declared, as laid out in Article 418(b).

Fifteen lawmakers, including a militarily appointed MP, Brig-Gen Tin San Naing, discussed the proposed amendments bill on Tuesday.

Win Myint, a lawmaker from the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said NLD parliamentarians speaking on the floor of Parliament held to the party line on the constitutional reform plan put before the legislature, stating that its proposed changes don’t go far enough.

“We disagree with the Parliamentary Constitutional Amendment [Implementation] Committee because there are not enough changes to the Constitution [in its reform proposal],” said the lawmaker, who was one of two NLD lawmakers on the committee and represents Pathein constituency in Irrawaddy Division.

The proposed amendment bill suggests that the threshold of lawmakers required to amend most parts of the Constitution be lowered from its current figure of more than 75 percent to, rather, at least 70 percent of votes.

But the NLD has proposed that the threshold, established in Article 436, instead be lowered to “two-thirds of elected parliamentarians,” which would exclude the votes of appointed military representatives, or more than half of the total Union Parliament, including unelected military MPs.

“The Constitution should be able to be amended over time, so that it would prevent unnecessary conflicts,” he said, referring to social upheavals over the decades that he blamed on the rigid and iron-fisted governance framework of Burma’s former military regime.

He added that Burma’s 1947 Constitution set the bar for amendments at two-thirds of the total lawmakers, as is a common threshold in Western democracies.

The NLD organized a nationwide signature campaign in favor of amending Article 436, collecting more than 5 million signatures before submitting the results to Parliament.

Five NLD lawmakers gave their views on the amendment bill, voicing strong support for the removal of Article 59(f), which bars party chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency because her two sons are British. The parliamentary committee’s proposed amendment to the article would only change its stipulations slightly, and would not make Suu Kyi eligible for the nation’s highest office.

On the first day of debate, Win Myint said the military nominee’s remarks reflected that institution’s seemingly entrenched position against any changes to the charter, which the former junta drafted and enacted following a sham national referendum in 2008.

Any amendment bill passed by the required 75 percent of lawmakers would then be put to a nationwide vote, where more than 50 percent of the public must vote in favor in order for the changes to go into effect.