Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and the 88 Generation Students group have agreed to launch a nationwide campaign this month to push for constitutional reforms ahead of general elections next year.
They said Monday that they had formed a joint central committee to lead the campaign, which will feature rallies led by NLD chief Aung San Suu Kyi and 88 Generation leader Min Ko Naing beginning May 17 in the largest city Yangon and May 18 in the second largest city Mandalay.
The joint central committee consists of NLD members Win Htein, Nyan Win, Ohn Kyaing, Win Myint, Hantha Myint and Tun Tun Hein, and Min Ko Naing and other 88 Generation leaders Ko Ko Gyi, Mya Aye, Jimmy Kyaw Min Yu and Pyone Cho, the groups said in a statement.
The campaign will also include a petition drive from May 27 to June 19, gathering signatures from the public in support of amending the 2008 junta-backed charter, which critics have slammed as undemocratic and which gives the military a key role in the country’s legislature.
The NLD and 88 Generation will specifically focus on informing the public about Article 436 of Chapter 12 of the constitution, which says that any charter reforms can only take place with the support of more than 75 percent of lawmakers.
The article effectively gives the powerful military bloc a veto over any charter amendments based on its 25 percent control of parliament.
The campaign will effectively test public opinion on the need to amend the constitution, which senior 88 Generation leader Ko Ko Gyi told RFA’s Myanmar Service is “essential to democratic reform.”
“We will be discussing Article 436 and why we want to amend it,” he said.
“There are some people in parliament who don’t want to amend it, but they need to explain why they don’t want to.”
Ko Ko Gyi called the clause “totally opposite from the democratic standard” and said it “harms the country and the dignity of the people” as Myanmar embraces political reform under President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government, which took power following elections in 2011.
“We have to organize honestly and explain to the public what we are planning to do. We also have to listen to any disagreements, if they have them,” he said.
“We will be pleased if people can choose and decide what they want freely.”
The NLD and 88 Generation are also looking to reach out to Myanmar’s diverse ethnic groups, Ko Ko Gyi said, many of which have been mired in conflict with the military for years as part of a bid to carve out more autonomy for their people.
But as the government moves to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement with the country’s armed ethnic groups they must be made aware of how important amending the charter is to ensure that they are given full political representation in rapidly changing Myanmar, he said.
“For ethnic groups, several problems exist, including ensuring equal rights, power sharing agreements, and rights to natural resources, which have to be solved within the constitutional framework,” Ko Ko Gyi said.
“We hope that the people will collaborate and participate in amending Article 436 if they better understand and accept why we must do this, and why we need to do it before 2015,” he said.
“If we don’t amend Article 436, we can only amend other parts of the constitution if all military representatives in parliament agree [with us].”
Ko Ko Gyi said that the military and the people are “divided” on how to proceed with reforms in Myanmar, but he urged all citizens—including soldiers—to take part in the bid to amend the constitution as “all people … have a stake in politics.”
Last year, Aung San Suu Kyi, who a clause in the charter blocks from becoming president because her sons are foreign citizens, began to publicly push for constitutional reform and had held talks with the ruling Union Development and Solidarity Party (USDP).
But the USDP, which is largely comprised of former junta generals, has been slow to accept reforms to the charter and the military is reluctant to give up its political privileges.
Suu Kyi has become increasingly vocal about amending the constitution since November and had teamed up with 88 Generation activists in February to push the issue. Recent months have seen several small rallies calling for reform around the country.
According to the Irrawaddy online journal, Thein Sein issued a secret directive in February, warning top government officials about the possibility of mass protests and violence this year caused by disagreements over constitutional reform.
After soliciting proposals from the public last year, a 31-member constitutional amendment implementation committee within parliament has been charged with completing a review of possible charter changes at least six months before the 2015 polls.
Eleven of the 31 seats in the implementation committee are held by the USDP, while the military has seven and the NLD has two. The remaining seats are held by either smaller opposition or ethnic parties.
Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.