In Their Own Words: Warnings against Constitutional Reform

By The Irrawaddy 22 February 2019

Since the ruling National League for Democracy launched its official push to amend the undemocratic military-drafted Constitution late last month, there has been no shortage of comment on the endeavor, mostly from the military and its proxy party, the formerly ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). While they support reform in principle, they said, they disagree with the way the NLD is going about it, warning that the party is not following the amendment procedures prescribed in the charter. Even the country’s former president, ex-General U Thein Sein, who has been out of public sight for most of the past four years, broke his silence to offer his views on the reform bid. Here is what a number of key personalities ranging from the country’s military chief to a former president and ex-ministers, as well as members of the opposition USDP, had to say.

Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in 2016 / The Irrawaddy

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar military chief

“In principle, we agree with the idea of constitutional amendment. But the important point is that no amendment should harm the essence of the Constitution.”

— Interview with Japanese news agency Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 14 in Naypyitaw.

Brig-Gen. Maung Maung in Parliament in February 2019 / Htet Naing Zaw / The Irrawaddy

Brigadier-General Maung Maung, leader of military-appointed lawmakers in Parliament

“The country will face instability if any one political party amends the Constitution with only its goals in mind. Our country is in a strategic position, so it could become a battleground if the wrong position is taken. It is necessary to be aware of this.”

— Comment to the media after the parliamentary session on Feb. 19, at which lawmakers approved the nomination of members of the joint constitutional reform committee.

USDP lawmaker U Thaung Aye in Parliament in February 2019 / Htet Naing Zaw / The Irrawaddy

U Thaung Aye, USDP lawmaker

The country may experience instability, as people will organize rallies in support of this or that side. Those who manage the country should consider this in advance.”

“Whether we raise an objection or not is of no significance to this Parliament. Decisions made through a voting machine, and not with the brain, won’t reflect the truth.”  

— Comment on Feb. 19 following Parliament’s approval of the constitutional reform committee’s membership by secret vote, in which lawmakers pressed buttons to record their vote. (Reported by Standard Time Daily)

USDP lawmaker and former President’s Office Minister U Soe Thein in 2018 / Aung Kyaw Htet / The Irrawaddy

U Soe Thein, USDP lawmaker and former President’s Office minister

“It would be better to start with [constitutional] articles that are easy [to amend]. Democratic reform can be implemented only when you know the way forward. [Look at] the cases of Egypt and Indonesia. Egypt didn’t know the way, so they failed. Implementing a democratic transition is like holding a glass; it can fall and break.”

— Comments to the media at Parliament on Feb. 21.

Former President U Thein Sein in Mandalay on Feb. 15, 2019 / Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy

Former President U Thein Sein

“[The Constitution] took nearly 16 years of consulting, drafting and writing. If [the Constitution] is really to be amended, lawmakers in Parliament can’t do it alone. How many of them are legal experts? Over 1,000 [legal experts] drafted [the 2008 Constitution] through consultation. It didn’t happen easily. So, it should be amended at the appropriate time.

— Comment made on Feb. 15 on the sidelines of a donation ceremony at Maha Gandhayone Monastery in Mandalay.

Former Information Minister and presidential spokesperson U Ye Htut in 2013 / The Irrawaddy

U Ye Htut, former information minister and presidential spokesperson

Calling the NLD’s attempt to launch constitutional reform a “trap”, former information minister cum presidential spokesperson U Ye Htut wrote the following on his Facebook page on Feb. 19:

“In my view, this move is merely a pre-2020 election tactic [by the NLD] rather than a genuine attempt at constitutional amendment.

“Therefore, the confrontation with the Tatmadaw and the USDP in Parliament makes NLD core supporters more active and excited.

“And this also makes the general public forget about the stalled peace process, the Rakhine crisis and the economic slowdown. And news about constitutional amendment makes headlines.

“And when the 2020 election draws near, the NLD can make the excuse that it hasn’t been able to fulfill its campaign pledges because the Constitution has yet to be amended.”