Time for Constitutional Change

By The Irrawaddy 26 May 2014

­It’s time for President Thein Sein’s government to stop toying with the hopes of the Burmese people, who have long fought for the opportunity to freely choose their leaders.

The president and his ministers know what they need to do to satisfy the people’s desires: amend the undemocratic military-drafted Constitution. But as opposition parties, dissidents and civil society groups call for a change to the charter, Thein Sein’s “reformist” government continues to stand in their way, as it has done since coming to power in 2011.

Over the past year or so, Thein Sein has acknowledged the need for amendments to the Constitution, which was written in 2008 and passed in a rigged referendum. But he has made it clear that any constitutional reform must be done “gently,” and with limits.

“We will have to work within the boundary of law to not affect the sovereignty of the country. Nobody wants unrest based on these two matters,” he said during a literacy event in Mandalay.

“If there’s unrest, it will affect the country. Every citizen—monks and everyone—should take examples from countries around the world that have seen unrest, and should protect the country’s stability.”

The Constitution currently reserves 25 percent of seats in Parliament for unelected military representatives. For this reason, many people believe that the military is responsible for slowing or blocking constitutional reform. But it’s not so simple. The military is still powerful, but it is not beyond the influence of the president. The current military leaders, including Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, were all subordinates to Thein Sein under the former junta, when the president was serving as prime minister. They must still report to him today.

Over the past three years, Thein Sein has not shown any indication that he is serious about constitutional reform. It’s the same story: Military regimes ruled the country by force for more than 50 years, and now a military government in a civilian disguise continues to do so today. But we’re tired of waiting, especially as the 2015 election draws closer. It’s time to allow the people to genuinely elect their government. It’s time for a constitutional change.