Myanmar Sets Up Panel to Review Constitution But Concerns Remain

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The lower house of Burma's parliament meets in Naypyidaw on Oct. 18, 2012.
The lower house of Burma's parliament meets in Naypyidaw on Oct. 18, 2012.

Myanmar has set up a 109-member parliamentary committee to consider amendments to the country's constitution that could enable opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to make a bid to become president and provide greater rights for ethnic minorities, according to lawmakers.

But some warned that the panel is unwieldy, does not fully represent the pro-reform groups, and could be a halfhearted attempt merely to defuse pressure from Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) pushing for the amendments to the charter framed in 2008 by the previous ruling military junta.

As the committee membership is based on current representation in parliament, which is dominated by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the military, the views of the opposition and ethnic groups most wanting the reforms may be ignored, veteran dissident Win Tin said.

"The ratio of the parliamentarians to members of the committee is not balanced," he said. "The decisions may not be right because of the imbalance."

The NLD co-founder said the panel should first outline any constitutional changes and then seek the views of experts to refine and finalize them.

The committee comprises about 50 USDP members, 25 representatives from the military, seven members of the NLD, and five representatives from ethnic-based parties, lawmakers said.

"The constitution is the life of a country and if it is written democratically, other laws, the administration, judiciary and legislature would operate in a democratic way," Win Myint, an NLD lawmaker said.


The NLD is banking on having any constitutional amendments endorsed before the 2015 general elections in which Aung San Suu Kyi believes her popular party would wrest power and she could become president, taking over from incumbent Thein Sein.

The present constitution however prevents her from becoming the president. It says that any Myanmar national whose relatives are foreign citizens or hold foreign citizenship is not qualified to serve as president or vice-president. Aung San Suu Kyi’s late husband was British and her two sons hold British citizenship.

Thein Sein has said that he is not preparing to run in the 2015 polls and that he would not oppose Aung San Suu Kyi vying for the top post, while the opposition leader's potential rival, parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann, has said that any charter revision will have to take into consideration not only her case but the interest of all citizens.

Aung San Suu Kyi also wants the constitution amended to do away with the military’s mandatory 25 percent quota in parliament.

A constitutional amendment requires at least 75 percent approval in parliament. But together, the military and Shwe Mann's military-backed USDP control more than 80 percent of the seats.

The constitution also gives sweeping powers to the military and places conflict-ridden ethnic regions under strict control of the central government.

"People who wrote this constitution accepted that it might have weak points," said Aye Maung, leader of the ethnic Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP).

"I assume that the USDP representatives would push for amending the constitution and will push the country towards a federal system [that would give ethnic states greater autonomy]."

Public comments

Sai Nyunt Lwin from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) said the committee should rope in members from outside parliament or accept comments from the public to have diversity of views.

The NLD and several other opposition groups boycotted the 2010 general elections—from which nearly most of the current parliament membership is derived—because it was based on the 2008 constitution for which they were not consulted.

The present constitution represents views of a few representatives of the people and those handpicked by the military junta, said Ko Ko Gyi, the leader of 88 Generation Students' Group, a key reform organization.

"The result of the 2010 election does not represent political and especially ethnic organizations," he said. "We welcome the approval to amend the constitution but the amendments should reflect the opinion of all political and ethnic organizations."

Reported by Kyaw Kyaw Aung, Myint Oo, and Nay Rain Kyaw of RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.





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