USDP-Proposed Charter Amendment to be Examined by Panel, Not Parliament

By San Yamin Aung 14 May 2019

YANGON— Myanmar’s Union Parliament on Tuesday voted for the Union Solidarity and Development Party’s (USDP’s) proposed draft bill amending Article 261 to be examined as part of a broader review being carried out by the Charter-Amendment Panel tasked with evaluating the entire 2008 Constitution for amendments.

Over 63 percent of Union Parliament lawmakers voted in favor of the action, while 198 (33 percent) opposed it and six abstained from the vote.

The draft bill, which proposes amending only a single article in the Constitution, was submitted by the military-backed USDP lawmakers and military representatives in February in an attempt to counter the ruling National League for Democracy’s (NLD’s) efforts in amending the Constitution.

The joint bill committee—formed to scrutinize the draft bill— recommended on March 5 for the proposed changes to Article 261 to be discussed by the Charter-Amendment Panel rather than in Parliament.

During the March 5 Parliament session, NLD lawmaker U Myat Nyana Soe, who is secretary of the joint bill committee, announced his committee’s suggestion in Parliament. He said his committee believes that if Article 261 is amended, other related articles right across the Constitution will also need to be reviewed for changes and if they are not, there will be numerous contradictions.

A bill amending each article would then need to be submitted to Parliament several times in order to avoid contradictions with the amendments to Article 261, he added.

A total of 63 lawmakers debated the joint bill committee’s suggestion, with military and USDP lawmakers raising strong objections to it and instead calling for it to be discussed separately.

Brig-Gen Maung Maung, who leads the military’s 25-percent bloc in Parliament, stood up and shouted in protest to the speaker’s decision to call a vote on whether to continue the draft bill amending Article 261 as per the bill’s committee suggestion or by the full Parliament.

The speaker warned him, saying that “It is my authority to decide to call for a secret ballot. I won’t allow you to discuss this. If you disagree [with the joint bill committee’s suggestion], you can object through your ballot.”

“Constitutional reform is vital to our country. Only if lawmakers sincerely work together—to bring about amendments for the country’s ethnic unity, national reconciliation and peace and development—will it benefit all citizens,” he told the lawmakers.

Brig-Gen Maung Maung remained standing in protest until the ballot result was announced.

“I would say it is democracy-bullying,” he told reporters after the parliamentary session in Naypyitaw, referring to the fact that the legislature is dominated by the NLD.

He said the decision for the Charter-Amendment Panel to examine the draft bill is using the Parliament’s laws and by-laws at someone’s will and that this could weaken the rule of law.

“It could also lead distrust between each other, resulting delays and difficulties in the country’s democratic transition,” the general said.

The military and USDP lawmakers seek to have regional chief ministers elected by local legislatures rather than appointed by the president in their proposed draft bill.

It has raised concerns among many ethnic politicians who fear it could give even more power to the military, which is already guaranteed one quarter of seats in the Union and regional legislatures.

“If chief ministers are to be elected by the respective parliaments, 25 percent of military-appointed lawmakers who [currently do not] have any say in appointing chief ministers will have that right, as they will be involved in electing chief ministers,” the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) general secretary Sai Nyunt Lwin told The Irrawaddy in March.

Meanwhile, the Charter-Amendment Panel—formed on the NLD’s proposal to work on amending the military-drafted Constitution—has been reviewing the charter chapter-by-chapter, starting with the 48 Basic Principles of the Union in Chapter 1.

The panel will report their findings to Parliament by July 17. It is also tasked with drafting an amendment bill based on the lawmakers’ discussions on its findings.

Additional reporting in this piece is by The Irrawaddy’s Naypyitaw correspondent Htet Naing Zaw.