The Parliamentary Battle over Amending the Constitution

By The Irrawaddy 18 March 2019

YANGON—On Jan. 29, Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) initiated an attempt to democratize the military-drafted Constitution by proposing in Parliament the formation of a joint committee on charter amendment. Over the past few months, as the joint committee reviewed the entire Constitution chapter by chapter, its work has been the subject of heated debate and an increase in political tensions between the NLD and military lawmakers, who see safeguarding the Constitution as their main role. Joining the military appointees in their opposition to reform has been the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), formed by ex-generals.

With the Union Parliament’s Charter Amendment Committee ready to submit its report on possible amendments to the Constitution on the third week of July, we take this opportunity to round up a collection of our recent stories, including opinions and interviews, about the parliamentary conflict between the NLD, the military and the USDP; opponents’ warnings against charter reform; views on how much reform is possible and the progress being made; and a breakdown of articles the NLD will likely target for amendment.

Editorials & Commentaries

The NLD’s Path to Constitutional Liberalism

Will the military abide by U Than Shwe’s pledge to allow reform after ‘a few years’ of the party’s rule?

Making Myanmar’s Constitution Democratic

A look at those articles of the Constitution the NLD is most likely to target for amendment first—and why.

With Only One Side Listening, Dialogue on Charter Was Never an Option

The NLD had no choice but to force the military to engage with constitutional reform in Parliament

Acknowledging the Elephant in the Room

The NLD’s move to amend the Constitution is a first small step in what will surely be a difficult journey.


Infographic: Making Myanmar’s Constitution Democratic

A detailed breakdown of the chapters and articles most likely to be targeted for reform by the government

Infographic: NLD’s First Big Step Toward Constitutional Reform

The Irrawaddy breaks down the constitutional reform committee’s path to approval in graphics and numbers.

Interviews & Dateline

Constitutional Reforms — ‘It’s Time to Take a Step Forward’

The Irrawaddy interviews U Aung Kyi Nyunt, the NLD lawmaker who proposed in Parliament this week for a committee to be formed to work on changing the troublesome 2008 Constitution.

Politicians and Analysts on Military’s Rebuffing of Charter Reform

The Irrawaddy recently spoke with a number of ethnic politicians and political analysts for their views on the military’s resistance to the NLD’s attempts at constitutional changes.

Minority Groups Weigh in on Having Chief Ministers Elected, Not Appointed

While ethnic minority parties want chief ministers elected by local lawmakers, they are concerned that it could end up giving even more power to the military.

In Their Own Words: Warnings against Constitutional Reform

Opposition lawmakers, the military and officials of the former government have had plenty to say about the NLD’s move to begin charter change.

‘We Don’t Expect a Single Amendment Will Be Made’

SNLD chief skeptical that NLD’s charter reform can succeed; he adds that Myanmar is ‘too weak’ to reject China’s BRI plans

Will Sound and Fury Over Constitution Reform Committee Signify Something?

The Irrawaddy discusses the NLD’s proposal to form a committee to draft amendments to Myanmar’s undemocratic Constitution and the prospects for genuine reform.

Military Not Pulling Its Punches on Charter Change

This week, The Irrawaddy discusses the Tatmadaw’s strongly negative initial reactions to the NLD’s constitutional reform bid.

Unity Needed for Effective Constitutional Reform

This week, The Irrawaddy discusses the likelihood and potential scope of constitutional amendments among a divided government.

Needed Tensions Are Rising in Myanmar’s Parliament

This week, we talk about Parliament, the NLD’s relationship with ethnic parties and the chances for constitutional change before and after the 2020 election.


NLD Makes First Official Move to Amend Constitution

Ruling party lawmaker set to ask Parliament to form joint committee to consider changes to military-drafted charter

Parliament OKs Debate on Charter-Amendment Panel over Military’s Strong Objection

Tense scenes inside Parliament as military lawmakers challenge Speaker over legality of move

Military ‘Never Said’ it Opposes Amending Constitution: Commander-in-Chief

Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said the Constitution, which gives the military veto power over any changes, should be amended “when it is necessary.”

Military a Possible No Show For Parliament Debate on Amending Constitution
“If we participate in the debate, it would be interpreted that we approve the proposal,” one military lawmaker said.

Committee to Amend Constitution Gets Strong Show of Support in Parliament

Of the 30 lawmakers who joined Tuesday’s debate on whether to form the committee, only five — all from the military-backed USDP — objected.

Parliament to Debate Proposal to Form Charter-Amendment Panel

36 lawmakers scheduled to take part, but not a single military appointee is among them

Parliament Approves Committee to Draft Amendments to Constitution

Nearly 67 percent of lawmakers voted to form the committee, which will be chaired by Parliament Deputy Speaker U Tun Tun Hein.

NLD Urges Military to Cooperate on Charter Amendment

Ruling party proposed forming a committee so that no side would lose face, NLD lawmaker says.

Formation of Constitution Amendment Committee Stalled

Tatmadaw appointees and USDP lawmakers have opposed the proposed committee structure which suggests representation according to Parliament proportion.

Military, USDP, ANP Withhold Nominees For Constitution Amendment Committee

“If those parties and that institution do not submit name lists, we can exclude them…. But we won’t do that,” NLD lawmaker U Myat Nyana Soe said.

Green Light for Charter Amendment Committee Despite Objections

USDP and military representatives in Parliament have opposed the proportional breakdown of the proposed committee for amending Myanmar’s disputed Constitution.

USDP Proposes Single Amendment to Constitution

The military-backed USDP wants just one change to the charter, and it has nothing to do with curbing the special privileges it grants the armed forces.

Military’s Parliamentary Quota Necessary as Country Not Yet Stable: Army Chief

Tatmadaw’s political role safeguards transition to democracy, Sen-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing tells Asahi Shimbun

Military Warns of ‘Battleground’ if Constitutional Amendments Mishandled

“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,” Brig. Gen. Maung Maung said.

Amendments Should Not Harm Essence of Constitution, Military Warns

Senior military leaders said any report by the charter amendment committee would be incomplete and warned there would be consequences if constitutional rules were breached.

NLD Urges Public ‘Not to Worry’ Amid Military Warnings over Charter Reform

Party seeks to reassure public as military steps up opposition to changes to ‘essence’ of Constitution

Parliament Committee Favors Inclusive Constitutional Amendment

Military lawmakers have stood in disagreement with the suggestion that the USDP’s lesser charter amendment proposal be discussed by the NLD-formed Charter-Amendment Panel.

Charter Amendment Committee Starts Work

Committee members reviewed the first 14 articles of the Constitution, including a clause guaranteeing the military a role in politics, but declined to discuss what was said.

USDP Accuses Ruling Party of Pushing Charter Amendments to Spur Protests

The ruling NLD denied the claim, in turn accusing the military-backed USDP of using religion and nationalism for its own political ends.

USDP Lawmaker Proposes Abolishing Charter Amendment Committee

U Thaung Aye told Parliament that a committee now discussing potential amendments to the Constitution should be abolished because it was in violation of the law.

NLD Proposes Lifting Ban Barring Daw Aung San Suu Kyi From Presidency

The ruling party proposed the constitutional amendment during a meeting of the joint committee now reviewing the military-drafted charter for possible changes.

Lawmakers Debate Report on Charter Amendment Proposal

Military and ANP lawmakers said plans to let a special committee vet a proposal to have regional chief ministers elected violates the law or would unnecessarily delay reform.

USDP and Military Propose 4 New Charter Amendments

This is the second move by USDP and military lawmakers to have their own amendment bill considered by Parliament in parallel with the NLD’s constitutional amendment efforts.

Parliament’s Constitution Amendment Panel Completes Review of Charter

Proposals to be submitted to Parliament next month; report recommends articles be repealed, amended, expanded or retained.

USDP-Proposed Charter Amendment to be Examined by Panel, Not Parliament

Military MP stood in protest to the legislature’s vote for a proposed amendment to Article 261 to be discussed by the Charter-Amendment Panel.

Click here to learn more about previous controversies surrounding the charter, dating back to its promulgation in 2008.