All Myanmar political parties and ethnic groups should be given a chance to discuss proposed amendments to the country’s constitution, President Thein Sein’s office said Tuesday, following a request by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for a four-way “summit” to deliberate on the issue.
Thein Sein’s spokesman Ye Htut said that any talks about constitutional amendments should be all-inclusive and be convened after a panel set up by parliament to consider the charter changes completes its work in January.
“The constitution is important to the country, and parliament has already set up a committee to review constitutional amendments,” Ye Htut told RFA’s Myanmar Service, adding that the government doesn’t want to “pressure the committee” with a meeting held only between four leaders.
Late last month, Aung San Suu Kyi called for a four-way “summit” between Thein Sein, Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, Defense Services Commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and herself to discuss the prospect of amending the charter.
“We have to listen to the opinions and attitudes not only from these four leaders, but also from new political parties that aren’t represented in the parliament yet and the leaders of ethnic armed groups after the review committee releases its report.”
A 109-member committee formed in June to review the constitution is currently accepting proposals to make changes to the military-written charter and will report on them in January.
Ye Htut said that the reasoning behind National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s suggestion that a four-way “summit” would help to “smooth” the parliamentary committee’s process was “meaningless.”
“If so, I want to ask [her] what kind of difficulties the review committee is having now in its process?” he asked.
“As far as I know, the committee is having no difficulties. The committee is doing its job.”
Ye Htut said that when the committee releases its report, “all political parties, the administrative officials and all relevant organizations will consider what should be done.”
He referred to an earlier statement by Aung San Suu Kyi in May, in which she said that “the president has no right to say or do anything related to amending the constitution” and that any decision would be carried out by parliament.
“She said and meant that only the parliament has the right to decide on [amending the constitution] and now we are saying that parliament has to do it. So, we can say that there is no difference between what Aung San Suu Kyi said [then] and what we are saying [now].”
‘No constitution is perfect’
Political commentator Kyaw Win told RFA that Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi must work together on the constitutional review in a way that is agreeable to both the ruling party and the opposition.
“If we look from Aung San Su Kyi’s perspective, it is good to have a meeting with the country’s key players to amend the constitution. On the other hand, the government has its strong reasons [to stick to the existing plan],” he said.
“I respect Aung San Suu Kyi’s attitude, but it is better to approach this issue in a way that will allow the two sides to work together smoothly.”
Kyaw Win said that he believes it is time for Myanmar to amend the constitution, written as an “exit strategy” for the country’s former military government, which relinquished power in March 2011, four months after landmark elections.
“If we view it through democratic standards, there are many problems to point out as this constitution was written during a specific situation—we didn’t see it according to a democratic point of view at that time, we saw it as an exit to the country’s crisis and a way to hold the 2010 election,” he said.
“Now, we are discussing amending the constitution and it is right [to do so]. We need to amend or change things about it because no constitution is perfect … at the beginning.”
But Kyaw Win said he is not in favor of rewriting the charter in its entirety.
“There is an equilibrium that … has been negotiated and agreed to. If we write a new constitution, this equilibrium would be broken … [which would lead to] more possibilities to go backward than forward,” he said.
Among the points that he believes should be amended are those that present obstacles to negotiations on a nationwide cease-fire agreement after decades of military conflict between the government and Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups, which have called for greater autonomy.
He also called for an amendment to a clause which bars Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president in the upcoming 2015 election, but cautioned that such a decision was an internal affair for Myanmar and should not be made as a result of pressure from the international community.
Call for change
Last week, while visiting Australia, Aung San Suu Kyi said that it is critical for Myanmar’s armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing to back demands for changes to the constitution.
She said that Min Aung Hlaing holds great sway on the proposed constitutional reforms, considering the fact that the current charter reserves 25 percent of seats in parliament for members of the military and requires a 75 percent parliament majority for a referendum on charter changes.
Aung San Suu Kyi, a longtime pro-democracy campaigner who spent years under house arrest during the former military junta regime, joined parliament last year as the country embraced a series of reforms introduced by Thein Sein following decades of military rule.
The constitution, which bars her from becoming president on the grounds that her children are British citizens, is a major obstacle to her bid for the country’s top post in the general elections in 2015.
Any Myanmar national whose relatives are foreign citizens or hold foreign citizenship is not qualified to serve as president or vice-president, the constitution says, in a clause some believe was written by the generals specifically to bar her from the position.
Reported by Khin Khin Ei and Kyaw Kyaw Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.