Military Lawmakers to Outnumber Others in Charter Amendment Debate

By Nan Lwin 25 July 2019

YANGON—More than six dozen military lawmakers will join a debate in the Myanmar Parliament in the coming weeks as lawmakers from the ruling and ethnic parties discuss proposed constitutional amendments that would end the military’s involvement in politics.

Out of 121 lawmakers registered for the debate, 78 are military appointees, while 27 are from their proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) has nominated five, and the Arakan National Party (ANP) and Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) three each, with various smaller parties accounting for the remaining five, according to lawmakers from the parties.

Drafted in 2008 by the then-ruling military junta, the charter has been widely criticized as undemocratic, particularly for the 25 percent of parliamentary seats it reserves for military appointees.

Last week, Parliament’s Charter Amendment Committee submitted a report that included 3,765 proposals to amend, add or remove items from the charter. Since February, the 45-member committee, which comprises representatives of 14 political parties, independents and members of the military’s 25 percent bloc in Parliament, has been reviewing the Constitution chapter by chapter, searching for areas that could be amended. Among the committee’s nearly 4,000 recommendations, the most noteworthy is a proposal to exclude the military from politics. 

However, the military appointees in Parliament objected to the formation of the committee from the outset, complaining that it is unconstitutional. Despite their presence on the committee, they have not contributed any recommendations, while ethnic parties, the ruling NLD, opposition USDP and even an independent candidate provided input on proposed charter changes. They also insisted that all of the committee’s procedures were in “violation of the Constitution.”

Brigadier General Maung Maung, the leader of the military lawmakers, on Wednesday declined to talk to the media about the debate.

However, political analysts see the large number of military representatives planning to speak during the debate as an indication that the military (or Tatmadaw) plans to take this opportunity to register its strong objections to the recommended charter amendments. 

“They want to counter all the recommendations in the report. That is why they have put forward such a large number of people,” said Yangon-based political and ethnic affairs analyst U Maung Maung Soe. 

With the military-backed USDP having registered nearly three dozen speakers, the opponents to the recommendations during the debate will number about 105, he added. 

The USDP has opposed the committee since its formation, demonstrating that it will stand firm with the military. As soon as the committee submitted its report, the party denounced its procedures as unconstitutional.

In the report, the SNLD proposed a total of 1,112 changes, the NLD 114; the ANP 858; the Mon National Party (MNP) 641; the Ta’ang (Palaung) National Party (TNP) 178; the Pa-o National Organization (PNO) 140; the Kachin State Democracy Party (KSDP) 111; the Zomi Congress for Democracy (ZCD) 53; and the USDP 10.

The most significant proposals by the ethnic parties, particularly the ANP, MNP and SNLD, reveal their strong desire to completely remove the military from all parliaments; to decentralize the country’s administrative, legislative and judicial systems; and to a create a system that grants local people decision-making power and responsibility in their respective states and regions.

Asked about the fact that only five representatives of the NLD had registered for the debate, Daw Khin San Hlaing, a lawmaker from the party, told The Irrawaddy, “We have already indicated what we want to change in the recommendations. I don’t think we need more people to discuss it.” 

The NLD’s key recommendations reflect the party’s policy of seeking to reduce the military’s political role gradually. The NLD suggests that military representatives’ proportion of seats be reduced to 15 percent in the 3rd Hluttaw (2021-2026), 10 percent in the 4th Hluttaw (2026-2031) and 5 percent in the 5th Hluttaw (2031-2036). The ruling party also suggests that military officers be required to retire when they take up government positions. 

A lawmaker from the USDP, Dr. Maung Thin, told The Irrawaddy, “We have a lot to discuss. That’s why we registered that number of people.”

He declined to say which topics the USDP speakers will focus their discussion on, saying only, “We will maintain our firm stand.” 

Lawmakers said they had not yet been notified of the exact time and date of the debate.

ANP lawmaker U Oo Hla Saw told The Irrawaddy, “We all know the military’s stand on amending the Constitution. They are just making a show of force by registering such a large number. The NLD registered a very small number for the debate compared with the military. I don’t expect these recommendations will actually [lead to change].” 

The Constitution’s Section 436(a) gives military representatives an effective veto over charter change by requiring proposed amendments to be approved by more than 75 percent of the Union Parliament, in which the Tatmadaw is guaranteed 25 percent of seats. The NLD has proposed amending this article to require “more than two thirds of elected Pyidaungsu Hluttaw MPs”, instead of “more than 75 percent of all Pyidaungsu Hluttaw MPs.” This would mean the military representatives could not block constitutional amendments on their own. The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw is the Union Parliament.

However, U Maung Maung Soe said, “It is not practical; even though they want to change [Section 436], they still need a vote from the military.” 

“The process of amending the Constitution cannot move forward if there is no vote [of support] from the military,” he said.

“There will be more tension [between the NLD and the military] for the remainder of the Parliament’s term,” he said.

SNLD lawmaker U Sai Thiha Kyaw said that given the military’s resistance and the difficulty of obtaining a consensus among all the parties and individuals needed to amend the Constitution, he didn’t expect good results.

“[But] we have participated and made our recommendations in the committee. One of our main ambitions is to amend the Constitution,” he said. 

“We can’t do it alone, as we are weak. It was a chance to state our aims. By participating and submitting our recommendations, we have made our intentions and our position known to the people. Agreements and disagreements can be negotiated later.”

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