On This Day

Referendum on Military-Drafted Constitution Pursued Amid Cyclone Devastation

By Wei Yan Aung 10 May 2019

Eleven years ago today, a referendum was held across the country to ratify a new, military-drafted constitution, just eight days after Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar and killed some 138,000 people.

The referendum was held in 278 townships throughout the country while the vote was postponed to May 24 only in some of the most severely affected areas in the Irrawaddy and Yangon regions.

The military regime of the time, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), led by Senior General Than Shwe, claimed that the referendum was keenly anticipated by the people, but then-opposition party the National League for Democracy (NLD) in a statement said it was “quite disgusting that the government only focuses on the Constitution and ignores the troubles facing the people in the aftermath of the disaster.”

Despite the widespread allegations of electoral fraud, the SPDC announced that 98.12 percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls across the country, and that 92.48 percent of them cast ballots in favor of the Constitution, known locally as the Nargis Constitution, as it was ratified just days after the devastating storm.

The military regime held a national convention from 1993 to 2007 to draft the Constitution. The  NLD boycotted the convention in 1995, but it later resumed with General U Thein Sein—who later became the first president under the new Constitution—chairing the convention.

Despite its provision of three branches of power and fundamental rights for citizens, the Constitution drew widespread criticisms at home and abroad due to the dozens of undemocratic provisions within it, including those that allow the military to retain its role in politics.

There were no significant changes to the Constitution during the government of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). In February 2019, the Union Parliament approved the NLD’s proposal to establish a committee to draft amendments to the 2008 Constitution, despite opposition from the USDP and military-appointed lawmakers. The 45-member committee is currently reviewing the Constitution.