Burma’s Lower House of Parliament has called for the resignation of all members of the country’s Constitutional Tribunal because of a ruling that will make it difficult for MPs to effectively oversee the activities of government entities.
Speaker of the Lower House Shwe Mann sent a letter to President Thein Sein on Tuesday demanding that the nine members, including the tribunal’s chairman, quit by Aug. 21.
In March, the tribunal, which rules on whether legislation is constitutional, said that committees set up by both the Lower and Upper houses are not “union-level” bodies.
The interpretation effectively means that parliament could lose the right to scrutinize government entities which are deemed union-level, dampening legislative oversight of the executive.
According to the tribunal ruling, which drew ire from Lower House MPs, the efforts of a parliamentary committee seeking to regulate “union-level” government entities could be called into question.
Some 331 MPs in the 440-member Lower House had earlier signed a petition calling the tribunal’s decision “unlawful.” They presented it to Shwe Mann during Tuesday’s parliamentary session.
A total of 330 members in the Lower House or Pyithu Hluttaw are directly elected and 110 appointed by Burma’s military, which dominates parliament and had ruled the country for five decades until last March, when the nominally civilian government of Thein Sein took over.
Ohn Kyaing, a parliamentary member from opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), called the tribunal’s decision an “insult” for suggesting that the decisions of parliamentary committees were not important enough to be elevated to levels enjoyed by the government ministries.
“The Constitutional Tribunal’s decision was insulting to the parliament. Therefore the 331 members signed the petition and requested the speaker of the House present their concerns to the president,” Ohn Kyaing said.
“Parliament approved the petition and sent a letter to the president to take action against the members of the tribunal,” he said.
Ohn Kyaing said that many of those who had signed the petition were MPs who had been assigned to parliament by the military.
Shwe Mann said the Constitutional Tribunal “made a mistake in its ruling” and that it “harmed the reputation of MPs and called into question their ability to perform their duties,” Burmese exile Mizzima news agency reported.
Lower House deputy speaker and Rights Committee chairman Nanda Kyaw Swa in April and earlier this month had proposed impeaching the tribunal.
But according to a statement published on his official website, Shwe Mann said he preferred to appeal to Thein Sein for his assistance in resolving the issue and urged MPs to resort to impeachment proceedings only if necessary.
Lawmakers, although their powers are relatively limited under the military-dominated legislature, have been more vocal than expected following the country’s landmark elections in November 2010 after decades of harsh military rule.
The decision to approach the president over the tribunal’s ruling came one week after Aung San Suu Kyi was approved by parliament to chair the newly formed Committee for Rule of Law and Stability—the first legislative panel she has headed since entering parliament last month.
The newly-formed committee, which was announced during the Aug. 7 session of parliament, is tasked with overseeing whether the country’s legislature, judiciary, civil service, and media are adhering to the rule of law.
Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters after her appointment last week, “Rule of law is not about control, but about protecting society.”
Burma’s Constitutional Tribunal is made up of nine judges, most of whom are academics or legal experts. Three of the judges were selected by President Thein, three by Shwe Mann, and three by the Speaker of the Upper House, Khin Aung Myint.
Burma’s Upper House, or Amyotha Hluttaw, consists of 224 members of which 168 are directly elected and 56 appointed by the military.
The tribunal was formed to interpret the provisions of Burma’s constitution, determine whether the laws put forth by the parliament are constitutional, and to arbitrate constitutional disputes between the lower and upper houses on the rights and functions of state.
Burma’s constitution was pushed through by the former military junta in 2008. It grants the armed forces a set number of ministerial posts.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Win Naing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.