A top official from Myanmar’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) on Monday vowed to amend the country’s 2008 military junta-drafted constitution if the party wins general elections scheduled for early November.
Changing the controversial charter, which contains several clauses widely viewed as undemocratic, is key to ensuring political stability and would be done in an all-inclusive manner during the next term of government, should the USDP win the Nov. 8 polls, according to party secretary Tin Naing Thein.
“We need to amend the constitution to build a federal union and to achieve a mature democracy in the country,” the secretary told a gathering of around 3,000 USDP supporters in the capital Naypyidaw.
“We will discuss amending the constitution within the upcoming five years with different ethnic groups, members of the government and the public,” he said.
Tin Naing Thein did not provide details about which clauses the USDP intends to amend, should it win the upcoming elections.
But he did suggest that charter reform was part of an ongoing effort by the quasi-civilian ruling party to effect democratic change in the nation since taking power from the former military regime in 2011 following an election seen by observers as neither free nor fair.
“Our USDP party and USDP government has been working toward a democracy through three phases and good policies within this government term,” he said, referring to the party’s focus on political reforms, improving the economy and tackling corruption to improve governance.
Tin Naing Thein told the crowd that the success of a party was not built on its leadership alone, but also on the merit of its local officials and membership.
“We all need to act in unity to build a developed country, and I’d like to urge you to vote for [USDP] candidates who can work for the future of the farmers, workers, students, women and the people of Myanmar,” he said.
The party secretary’s statement followed one he made earlier this month in a televised campaign speech calling the USDP “the father of democracy” in Myanmar—a suggestion many activists and opposition members who fought in the name of democracy for decades under the former military regime took umbrage with.
“We can say that democracy originates from the USDP, since the government that started the reforms to becoming a democratic country was our party’s government,” Tin Naing Thein said at the time, adding that the USDP had worked hard to repay its supporters in the 2010 election.
Critics have dismissed Tin Naing Thein’s comment as baseless, and say democratic reform cannot truly begin in Myanmar without first amending the constitution.
In June, Myanmar’s parliament failed to pass amendments to the charter that would have removed the military’s effective veto on legislative reform, drawing criticism from opposition lawmakers who expressed doubt over the commitment to democratic change.
The proposed amendments to Article 436 would have lowered the share of parliamentary votes required to approve charter changes from more than 75 to 70 percent, limiting the veto power of the military, which is guaranteed a quarter of legislative seats through appointment.
Another proposed change to Article 59(f) of the constitution voted down by parliament would have changed eligibility requirements that effectively bar opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.
The NLD is widely expected to sweep the November elections, but Aung San Suu Kyi—whose party won the vote in 1990 but was kept out of office by the then-ruling junta—cannot assume the presidency because her sons are British citizens.
Only one of six proposed amendments was approved during the June vote—and amendment to Article 59(d), which changes the working of “military” to “defence” in a clause which requires the president to be well acquainted with the political, administrative, economic and military affairs of the Union.
After the session, Aung San Suu Kyi said the amendments, proposed by the USDP, fell short of necessary reform, adding that voting against even the limited proposals indicated a lack of willingness for change. Earlier this year she had suggested the NLD might boycott the election if the charter was not revised.
The vote also prompted some critics to call for constitutional reform to be taken out of the hands of parliament.
At Friday’s USDP meeting in the capital, former general and ruling party candidate Hla Htay Win suggested that Myanmar’s pathway to “stability and development” did not necessarily need to include reform.
“I would like to welcome you to collaborate with us in building a democratic country, instead of making comments such as: ‘It’s time for change’ or ‘We need change,’” he said.
“I want to urge you to vote for the USDP, as we have chosen experienced candidates to run in the election who can solve the problems and the difficulties [faced by the nation] during this transitional period.”
Reported by Win Naung Toe and Thiha Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.