Religious Affairs Minister: ‘Constitution Goes Against Buddhist Beliefs’

By Htet Naing Zaw 16 March 2017

NAYPYIDAW — Burma’s 2008 military-drafted Constitution should be amended because it contradicts Buddhist beliefs, the Union Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture has argued.

U Aung Ko said, as a fundamental belief of Theravada Buddhism, the most widely practiced religion in the country, people should face the consequences of their actions, or “reap what they sow.”

“This is the essence of Theravada Buddhism but a provision says retrospective actions shall not be taken against both legal and illegal deeds. This goes against Theravada Buddhism,” the minister told reporters at the Union Parliament on Wednesday.

The minister was referring to Article 43 that states, “no penal law shall be enacted to provide retrospective effect.”

Widely criticized as being undemocratic, the Constitution was adopted in a national referendum in 2008. It provides the Burma Army with 25 percent of seats in national and sub-national legislatures and affirms the army’s grip of three key ministries.

Critics have speculated that military officials deliberately included Article 43 to give themselves impunity after the political transition.

“The legal experts who took part in drafting the Constitution are supposed Buddhists,” said U Aung Ko.

People were forced to approve it, he said, adding that it was not formulated to serve the interests of the people, but to protect a particular group.

The former Burma Army Brigadier-General and lawmaker of the then-ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) between 2010 and 2015 said that unless the Constitution is amended, the aspirations of the people would not be achieved.

According to him, these aspirations include the pursuit of national reconciliation and peace, adherence to the rule of law, as well as the establishment of a federal Union.

“Considering these things, the Constitution must be changed. Will [the Burma Army] cling to the 2008 Constitution or protect the wishes and interests of people?” he asked.

“Everybody knows the Constitution was made purposefully difficult to amend. It will be amended by history, by the people. This is the answer, and that time won’t be far away,” U Aung Ko said.

The amendment of any clause requires the support of at least 75 percent of parliamentary members but the quota of 25 percent military in the legislative body maintains the army’s powerful influence.

Clarifying that he did not mean the military should immediately leave Parliament for the barracks, U Aung Ko suggested following Indonesia’s example of gradually reducing military participation in politics.

“This depends on national reconciliation, and internal peace, which in turn depend on constitutional amendment.”

Burma Army Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing has said in several interviews that the army would leave politics after peace prevails across the country.

“The government, the military and ethnic armed groups must give-and-take. All sides must make compromises, magnanimity is also necessary,” added the minister.

Leaders of civil society organizations (CSOs) called for reform of Burma’s 2008 Constitution at the first national forum of CSOs held in Naypyidaw in February.