Military Warns of 'Battleground' if Constitutional Amendments Mishandled

By Htet Naing Zaw 20 February 2019

NAYPYITAW — Brig. Gen. Maung Maung on Wednesday warned of national instability if any one political party amends the Constitution with only its goals in mind.

“Because our country is in a strategic position, it could become a battleground if a wrong position is taken. It is necessary to be aware of this,” he told reporters in Naypyitaw.

The general, who leads the military-appointed lawmakers in the Union Parliament, said the Constitution should be amended in line with the law and accused the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) of using its parliamentary majority in a high-handed manner.

Speaking to Parliament on Tuesday, Lower House Deputy Speaker U Tun Tun Hein sought to allay fears that minority parties would be ignored.

“We won’t try to amend the Constitution through shortcuts. Rather than doing it with one party alone, we will try to cooperate [with others] to bring about amendments that reflect the real wishes of the people,” he said.

Parliament approved the formation of a committee to draft amendments to the Constitution on Tuesday, defeating opposition from lawmakers with the military and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Of the 593 lawmakers present for the ballot, 389 voted in favor, 192 voted against and three abstentions.

The approved plan is for a 45-member body with representatives from 14 parties: 18 from the NLD, eight from the military, two from the USDP, two from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), two from the Arakan National Party (ANP), one each from the other political parties, one independent, and the Parliament speaker and deputy speaker.

The distribution is in rough proportion to the number of seats the parties control in Parliament, though the smallest parties are overrepresented at the expense of the military and NLD.

“The committee will submit a report on the proposed amendments as soon as possible. Then the Union Parliament will hold a debate on it, and there will be a result. This will be the basic points of the draft law to amend the Constitution,” said lawmaker U Myat Nyana Soe, the committee’s secretary.

“Then the committee will draft the law to amend the Constitution. Its term will be over then,” he added.

U Tun Tun Hein said any disagreements with the draft will be submitted to Parliament along with the draft for debate.

The NLD says the procedure is in line with Chapter 12 of the Constitution.

USDP lawmaker U Thaung Aye, however, said the NLD was breaking with the law and accused the party of acting “arrogantly.”

The USDP has submitted its own bill to amend the Constitution, which proposes changing just one provision in Article 261. If approved, it would allow regional parliaments to elect their own chief ministers, who are currently appointed by the president.

Like many critics of the military-drafted Constitution, lawyer U Thein Than Oo said the charter needed a far more extensive overhaul, singling out Article 6 (f), which allows the defense services a “leadership role” in national politics.

He also noted that it was drafted while State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest and many dissidents were behind bars.

“There are 15 chapters with 457 provisions. It took 15 years [to draft], about 12 days per provision. It was drafted cunningly and does not represent the public interest. It just gives all the power and privilege to the military,” U Thein Than Oo said.

Political analyst U Yan Myo Thein said the country’s civilian and military leaders should hold talks to address the Constitution’s undemocratic provisions.

“Unless and until an agreement is reached between the leaders, Myanmar’s democratic transition will not be on the right track,” he said.

The parties given seats on the new committee are the NLD, USDP, SNLD, ANP, Wa Democratic Party, Zomi Congress for Democracy, Pa-O National Organization, Palang National Party, Kokang Democracy and Unity Party,  United National Democracy Party, Mon National Party, National Unity Party, Kachin State Democracy Party, and Lisu National Development Party.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.