Parliament’s Constitution Amendment Panel Completes Review of Charter

By San Yamin Aung 14 June 2019

YANGON—The Union Parliament’s Charter Amendment Committee on Thursday completed reviewing the entire Constitution for possible amendments. It will submit a report on its findings to Parliament next month.

Committee secretary U Myat Nyana Soe, who is also an Upper House lawmaker for the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), said the report recommends that various provisions of the Constitution be repealed, amended, added to, or retained.

The committee, formed on Feb. 19, is tasked with reviewing the charter, reporting its findings to Parliament not later than July 17, and drafting an amendment bill based on Parliament’s debate of the findings.

Comprising 45 representatives of political parties and the military, the panel reviewed all 15 chapters of the Constitution, along with five additional schedules relating to tax collection, the state and regional legislatures, self-administered regions and other topics, U Myat Nyana Soe said.

The committee secretary said the details of the committee’s findings would be made public when they are submitted to Parliament, which is in recess. It is prohibited to disclose the details of the committee’s meeting.

Formation of the amendment committee was the NLD’s first official attempt to amend the Constitution since it took power in 2016. The move has drawn strong resistance from military-appointed lawmakers in Parliament and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

In a lecture titled “Challenges of Transition” at Charles University in Prague during her recent visit to the Czech Republic, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that while opposition to constitutional reform is to be expected in the legislature, the NLD has been encouraged by the interest with which people are following the proceedings.

“The 2008 Constitution prevents the emergence of a truly functional democratic system,” she said.

She pointed to some undemocratic provisions in the Constitution, such as reserving 25 percent of parliamentary seats—both regionally and nationally—for the military; granting the Army chief the power to appoint three important ministers (defense, home affairs, and border affairs) and the final say in questions of military justice.

She also cited Article 436, which requires approval from more than 75 percent of the total lawmakers in Parliament to amend a number of crucial articles (most of which privilege the military), after which the proposed amendment must be approved by a majority of eligible voters in a nationwide referendum.

The article is one of the most controversial in the Constitution, as it effectively gives the military a veto over any proposed changes.

“Not surprisingly, juridical experts have pronounced that the Myanmar Constitution is about the most rigid in the world today,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said.

Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) lawmaker U Sai Thiha Kyaw told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the party proposed changes to almost all clauses of the Constitution at the committee’s meetings.

“But we don’t have high expectations [for the proposed changes],” he said.