Myanmar Charter Committee Asks Parliament to Amend Key Clause

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A supporter holds a portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally calling for amendments to Myanmar's constitution in Yangon, May 17, 2014.
A supporter holds a portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally calling for amendments to Myanmar's constitution in Yangon, May 17, 2014.

A parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing proposed changes to Myanmar’s junta-drafted constitution has agreed to amend a key clause in the charter that could pave the way for broader reforms ahead of national elections next year, according to lawmakers.

It is now up to the full parliament to decide whether to adopt the review committee’s decision that Article 436 of Chapter 12 of the constitution should be amended, they said.

Aung Kyi Nyunt, a lawmaker with Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, told RFA’s Myanmar Service Wednesday that the committee, of which he is a member, made the decision at a May 19 meeting in the capital Naypyidaw.

Article 436 says that any charter reform can take place only with the support of more than 75 percent of lawmakers, while guaranteeing the military 25 percent of parliamentary seats, giving it veto powers in changing the constitution.

Aung Kyi Nyunt said that the committee had agreed to change the required support for amending the constitution to two-thirds of lawmakers and would submit its recommendation to parliament for an official vote.

“Although we have agreed on it, the Union Parliament has to make the final decision,” he said Wednesday, following the committee’s fourth day of discussions since first convening on May 15.

Tin Maung Oo, a lawmaker from the ruling Union Development and Solidarity Party (USDP) who is also a review committee member, confirmed the panel’s decision but did not elaborate on what specific changes to the clause, or to the charter in general, would be recommended to parliament.

“The final decision is on the Parliament. As parliamentarians represent the public, it will echo the public’s sentiment,” he told the Irrawaddy Journal.

The ex-colonel under the former military regime said that committee members were considering amendments based on “the public’s voices, the ethnic [minorities’] desires and benefits for them, and for the sake of the state and statesmen.”

Support for change

The NLD and prominent civil society group 88 Generation students held two mass rallies which drew tens of thousands of supporters over the weekend calling for an amendment to Article 436 and other clauses deemed “undemocratic” in the constitution, which was pushed through by the country’s former military regime in 2008.

But the USDP, which is largely comprised of former junta generals, has been slow to accept reforms to the charter, and the military is reluctant to give up its political privileges.

Aung Kyi Nyunt expressed confidence, however, that the recommendations would be adopted by the legislature, which would set the stage for broader reforms to the constitution before national elections slated for sometime late next year.

“I think it can be completed six months ahead of the 2015 election, if we can keep working at the same pace,” he said of the committee’s likelihood of adhering to its time requirements.

“We hope to discuss it during the upcoming [May 28] parliamentary meeting.”

Fourteen of the 31 seats in the review committee are held by the USDP, while the military has seven and the NLD has two. The remaining seats are held by either smaller opposition or ethnic parties.

Aung Kyi Nyunt said that the USDP committee members had willingly collaborated on amending Article 436 during Monday’s meeting.

“Things went fairly smoothly. We saw the MPs from the USDP hold pretty fair discussions during the meeting,” he said, adding that negotiations were “not that difficult.”

The committee continues to face “several disagreements” over proposed amendments to the constitution, including wording and “differences of opinions between the various political and ethnic parties,” Aung Kyi Nyunt said, but he told RFA that these would gradually be resolved.

The committee plans to continue its meetings this week and up until parliament opens next week.

Additional considerations

Tin Maung Oo also told the Irrawaddy that committee discussions had explored devolving governance under a federal system.

“We understand ethnics have doubts about their experiences under 50 years of the Union,” he said, referring to longstanding complaints by minorities that the ethnic Burman-dominated central government has ignored or opposed their interests.

More contentious clauses in the constitution—including the number of parliamentary seats held by the military and its role in politics; Article 59(F), which bars Aung San Suu Kyi and others with foreign family members from becoming president; and rules on declaring a state of emergency—require a majority of voters to back their change, via a national referendum.

However, Article 59(F) has not yet been discussed, the Irrawaddy reported, quoting Banyar Aung Moe, an ethnic Mon lawmaker from the All Mon Region Democracy Party who is also serving on the committee.

The journal had quoted another NLD lawmaker and committee member Win Myint earlier this week as saying that “there is a lot to discuss” about charter amendments and that talks would not be completed before the resumption of parliament next week.

Reported by Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.





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