Myanmar Parliament Begins Debate on Bill to Amend Constitution

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Myanmar lawmakers attend a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw, Aug. 16, 2013.
Myanmar lawmakers attend a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw, Aug. 16, 2013.

Myanmar’s Union parliament on Tuesday began debate on a bill proposing changes to the country’s military-drafted constitution, with some democracy advocates saying its provisions fall short of hoped-for reforms, sources said.

Discussions by lawmakers on key points, including changes to procedures to amend the country’s 2008 charter, will continue until June 25, when a final vote on the bill is expected.

Political opposition figures are seeking amendments to Article 436 of the constitution, which guarantees Myanmar’s military a quarter of the seats in parliament through appointment, giving them an effective veto over proposed charter reform.

Also being sought are changes to Article 59 of the constitution, which makes opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi ineligible for the country’s presidency because her sons are British citizens.

Likely domination of Thursday’s vote by appointed lawmakers from Myanmar’s military may doom all chances for reform, though, a parliamentarian from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) said on Tuesday.

“At least 75 percent of votes cast must be in favor for changes to be made,” USDP lawmaker Thura Aye Myint said during the debate.

“After that, a public referendum must be held in which at least 50 percent of the public agrees to the proposed changes,” he said.

However, to obtain at least 75 percent of favorable votes in the parliament, at least one of those votes must be cast by a military member of parliament (MP), Thura Aye Myint said.

“This will make it impossible to make changes,” he said.

Military 'trying to keep control'

“We want a 5 percent reduction of the minimum vote required from 75 percent to 70 percent,” agreed Arakan National Party MP Pe Than, speaking to RFA’s Myanmar Service on Tuesday.

“The military is trying to keep control so that nothing can be done without their consent,” he said.

Myanmar’s people want the number of military MPs in parliament to be “gradually reduced, within a fixed time frame,” Pe Than said, adding, “They also want Article 59 to be changed.”

“All these hopes are being shattered,” he said.

This week’s debate on constitution reform comes at the end of a two-year process that began in March 2013, and which has now “picked up pace” with the approach of general elections scheduled for late October or early November, The Myanmar Times said in a June 23 report.

Even if the bill proposed this week becomes law, a push for further reforms will almost certainly continue, said Oxford University legal scholar Andrew McLeod, quoted in The Times.

“I doubt these amendments will satisfy the calls for constitutional reform,” said McLeod, who advised and provided support to the Myanmar parliamentary committees that developed them.

“The demand for reform of the constitution will remain on the agenda for some time yet,” he said.

Reported by Thin Thirri for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.





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