Parliamentary Debate on Myanmar Constitutional Reform Gears Up

By San Yamin Aung 23 August 2019

YANGON— Myanmar’s parliamentary debate over constitutional reform geared up Friday, with military-appointed lawmakers renewing their opposition to the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party’s attempts to amend the Charter.

Eight military officers of high rank—including brigadier general, colonel, lieutenant colonel, major and captain—strongly objected in Parliament to the bill committee’s suggestion that its proposed draft bill to amend the Constitution be examined by the 45-member Charter Amendment Committee, the path the NLD has paved toward amending the Charter.

The military appointees said they totally disagreed with the proposed amendments being discussed by the Charter Amendment Committee, whose very existence they rejected as “unconstitutional.”

“We have objected to the formation of the committee and its procedures as it breached the Constitution. We are not objecting to the amendments to the constitution but the committee, which is against the law,” military-appointed lawmaker Brig-Gen Nyunt Swe said, asking to continue discussin the bill with the participation of the full parliament instead.

The formation of the 45-member committee is the NLD’s first official attempt to amend the Constitution since they took power in 2016. The move has drawn strong resistance from military lawmakers in Parliament and their proxy party, the formerly-ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

The committee—which includes representatives from 14 political parties, independents and the military’s 25 percent bloc in Parliament—has reviewed the entire Constitution for possible amendments, chapter by chapter, since February.

Last month, the committee put forward nearly 4,000 recommendations for various changes to provisions in the Constitution and is now drafting a bill amending the Constitution. Standing by their original position, the military and the USDP insisted all of the committee’s procedures are “unconstitutional” and so did not make any proposals during committee meetings.

To counter the NLD’s efforts in amending the Constitution, military representatives in Parliament and USDP lawmakers proposed a draft bill amending the Charter in May. The bill included four proposed amendments including changes to limit the president’s executive power in states and regions.

The parliament’s joint bill committee—formed with bill committee members from the Lower and Upper House—scrutinized the bill and on Aug. 15 recommended proposed changes to be discussed by the Charter Amendment Committee rather than by the entire Parliament.

Military-appointed lawmaker Major Zarni Htet Aung said, “Saying the proposed draft bill should be examined by the [45-member] committee is the same as saying ‘violate the Constitution.’”

“I keep seeing constitutional violations. Lawmakers need to be cautious—we swore to uphold and abide by the Constitution and its laws,” he said.

Brig-Gen Nyunt Swe said their proposed amendments aim to grant more authority to state and regional chief ministers, to make sure that the president and Union-level organizations abide by the Constitution and to improve the fairness of the election commission’s resolutions and functions.

For the sake of the country and for ensuring citizens’ rights, it is lawmakers’ duty to discuss the draft bill as soon as possible, he said, adding that the bill that will be submitted by the Charter Amendment Committee will take time because the committee collected more than 3,700 recommendations from different political parties.

Along with eight military appointed lawmakers, nine other lawmakers from the USDP and the NLD discussed the bill committee’s suggestion on Friday.

A total of 34 lawmakers have signed up for the debates. The remaining discussions will continue in the upcoming weeks.

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