Majority of Myanmar Parties, Other Groups Back Charter Changes

myanmar-parliament-military-aug-2013.jpg Military representatives attend a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw, Aug. 16, 2013.

A majority of political parties, civil societies, government institutions—including the military—and legal experts have submitted proposals to a parliamentary panel saying they back amendments to the country’s constitution, lawmakers said Friday.

They said the 109-member committee received more than 28,000 letters of suggestions from the various groups, with a majority supporting changes to the charter, which was written by the previous military junta and bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.    

The panel, which was set up by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)-dominated parliament six months ago to receive public feedback on the constitutional changes, submitted the proposals to parliament on Friday in line with the deadline set by the legislature.

“Now it is in the hands of members of parliament, who will decide whether to amend the constitution or not,” Zaw Myint Maung, an MP from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party and who is among the committee’s members, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“Most of the 28,000-odd suggestions by the groups wanted amendments to the constitution,” he said. “This is very clear.”

Zaw Myint Maung said a controversy arose in parliament after it was discovered that USDP members from the party’s 18 townships in Yangon had sent more than 100,000 letters to the committee saying they were against amendments to key provisions of the 2008 military-written constitution.

They were against amending provisions which barred Aung San Suu Kyi from making a bid for the presidency in the 2015 elections as well as those which ensure the military’s continued role in politics and block constitutional changes without military approval, he said.

“It was something like a signature campaign,” he said. “One of the NLD MPs told parliament that the NLD was a more popular party and could have got much more letters of support for constitutional amendments and dumped them to the committee.”

No power to evaluate proposals

The committee’s mandate was to accept the proposals and present them to parliament for a decision.

Pe Than, an MP for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), stressed that the submissions were only recommendations and had no bearing on whether parliament will decide to amend the charter.

“The committee has no power to make a decision. Making a decision is parliament’s job,” he said.

But he said that the larger representation of USDP and military legislators in parliament could influence how the decision is made.

“We have a much larger number of MPs from the USDP and military in parliament than from other parties,” he said.

“Those MPs’ decisions will be important when parliament decides which articles to amend.”

A constitutional amendment requires at least 75 percent approval in parliament before it is put to a national referendum, but together, the military and the USDP control more than 80 percent of legislative seats.

“It is not easy for the opposition to push for amending the constitution with more than 75 percent of the legislature controlled by the USDP and military,” Zaw Myint Maung said. “But we have to try very hard.”

Parliament on Friday formed a committee consisting of 41 legislators to examine the proposed changes to the constitution.


The 194-page, 15-chapter Republic of the Union of Myanmar Constitution was adopted by the previous military government in May 2008. President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government took power in 2011 and has since announced wide-ranging political and economic reforms.

One provision bars anyone whose children have foreign citizenship from becoming president. Aung San Suu Kyi's late husband was a British academic and her two adult children have British citizenship.

While many see an amendment to the provision as critical for the 2015 elections to be considered free and fair, they fear the USDP and the military are not totally committed to bring about the change.

Some are of the view that even if the leaders are committed, time may not be on their side.

"Getting the constitution amended before the 2015 election would be a great step forward, but it requires a nationwide referendum and there may not be enough time left to reach a consensus on the amendments and hold the referendum," Lex Rieffel, a nonresident fellow at Washington-based Brookings Institution, said in a recent commentary.

Earlier this month, Aung San Suu Kyi traveled through Myanmar to promote changes to the charter, drawing overwhelming support from crowds in the country’s remote ethnic regions.

Ethnic-based political parties in Myanmar and armed rebel groups negotiating cease-fire agreements with the government have also called for amendments that allow ethnic groups and states greater autonomy.

Reported by Nay Rein Kyaw, Myo Thant Khine, Zin Mar Win and Thin Thiri. Translated by Khin Maung Soe and Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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