USDP Proposes Single Amendment to Constitution

By Htet Naing Zaw 14 February 2019

MAYPYITAW — The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has put forward a bill to amend Article 261 of the Constitution that would, if approved, see regional chief ministers elected by local legislatures rather than appointed by the president.

Lower House USDP lawmaker U Thaung Aye, who submitted the proposal, said the change would benefit ethnic minorities.

“This will contribute to national unity, ethnic rights and to freedom and justice,” he told reporters in Naypyitaw on Wednesday.

The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) submitted an urgent proposal to the Union Parliament to form a committee to draft amendments to the military-drafter Constitution on Feb 8. Despite opposition from military-appointed lawmakers and the military-backed USDP, Parliament approved it decisively.

While the NLD is likely to propose a raft of changes to the charter — which grants the military special powers and privileges — the USDP is suggesting just one.

According to Chapter 12 of the Constitution, a bill to amend the charter must be submitted by at least 20 percent of lawmakers in Parliament. Since the USDP lacks the numbers, it collaborated with the military and some ethnic minority parties to submit its proposal.

The NLD constitutes 59 percent of Parliament, ethnic minority parties 11 percent, the USDP 5 percent, and the military — as guaranteed by the Constitution — 25 percent. U Thaung Aye, an ex-general, declined to comment on which ethnic minority parties the USDP cooperated with.

Brig. Gen. Maung Maung, who leads military-appointed lawmakers in Parliament, said he did not know the details of the bill.

Lawmaker Daw Khin Saw Wai, of the Arakan National Party, suggested that her party did not cooperated with the USDP to submit the bill but said it has wanted to change Article 261 for a long time.

“I think the time is right. As the USDP cooperated with the Tatmadaw [military], the proposed amendment should be a success,” she told The Irrawaddy.

Article 261 (d) states that the person appointed by the president as the chief minister of a region or state shall not be refused by the region or state parliament unless it can clearly prove that the person does not meet the qualifications for the post.

“Our policy is to change what needs to be changed, and we have begun with what is needed most for the people and our ethnic brethren,” said U Thaung Aye.

At an event in October to mark the third anniversary of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing spoke in favor of local legislatures electing chief ministers.

A meeting to form the committee to draft the constitutional amendments on Friday was postponed when the military and USDP objected to appointing its members based on how many seats each party holds in the Union Parliament. They want an equal numbers of seats on the committee for each party.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.