Myanmar Delays Constitution Review by One Month

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Myanmar lawmakers attend a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw, Aug. 16, 2013.
Myanmar lawmakers attend a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw, Aug. 16, 2013.

The parliamentary panel tasked with weighing changes to Myanmar’s constitution announced Thursday that it will delay its final report by one month to the end of January in order to extend its deadline for proposals from the public.

The 109-member parliamentary committee had been scheduled to deliver its report by Dec. 31, according to a timetable announced after the panel was established in June to review the charter written by the country's former military junta.

Proposals to amend the 2008 constitution will now be accepted until Dec. 31, the committee announced at a parliamentary session Thursday, extending the original deadline of Nov. 15.

Lawmakers said that the panel had already received “hundreds of submissions” from the public, but hoped to incorporate additional proposals, including those from armed ethnic groups who in recent peace talks with the government have called for the charter to be rewritten to provide their states with greater autonomy.

Win Myint, a committee member and parliamentarian from Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the panel was pleased by parliament’s decision to extend the review period because of the enormous importance of the constitution to the country’s citizenry.

“We appreciate that the parliament has extended the time periods for submitting the committee’s report and [accepting] people’s suggestions,” he said.

“The result of this process depends on how many opinions we receive from the people and how the committee makes its decisions based on those opinions.”

Thura Aye Myint, another member of the review committee and a parliamentarian from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), stressed that the panel would focus on proposals from the country’s armed ethnic groups in a bid to further the government’s goal of national reconciliation.

“We are giving special consideration to the attitudes and wishes of the ethnic people,” he said.

“If they submit their [proposals] to amend the constitution, we will focus our attention on implementing them.”

A government delegation and representatives from more than a dozen armed ethnic rebel groups failed to hammer out details of a nationwide cease-fire accord at the end of landmark peace talks earlier this week, putting off further discussions until next month.

The two sides said in a statement that they had agreed to sign the peace deal—though they gave no time frame for doing so—after which they will draw up a framework for and hold a political dialogue, which will likely address ethnic demands for amending the constitution.

The government, which is racing to end conflict with ethnic rebels to speed up reforms after decades of military rule in Myanmar, had aimed to hammer out details of the cease-fire at the meeting this week in order to have an agreement signed this month.

Banyar Aung Moe, a member of parliament from the All Mon Regions Democracy Party (AMDP), said that amending the constitution is crucial to the government’s reconciliation process with Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups.

“The peacemaking process is moving towards the signing of a nationwide cease-fire and holding political dialogue,” he said.

“At that time, it is imperative to amend the constitution.”

Major objective

Amending the constitution has been a major objective for the NLD, which joined parliament last year after boycotting earlier elections.

The NLD is banking on having constitutional amendments endorsed before the 2015 general elections, in which Aung San Suu Kyi hopes her party will wrest power so that she can take over the presidency from Thein Sein, also a former military general.

But the opposition leader is barred from assuming the presidency under the current constitution, which 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.

The NLD also wants the constitution amended to abolish the military’s quota of 25 percent of parliamentary seats.

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.

In September, Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann said that Myanmar’s constitution was designed by the previous military junta to foster a smooth transfer of power to a civilian government, dismissing suggestions the generals in fact wanted to maintain their grip on power through the charter.

Some political analysts have said that the military regime had drawn up the charter to maintain its grip on power by including provisions that protected the junta leaders from being accountable for their actions, stifling democracy, and curbing the rights of minority ethnic groups.

Reported by By Myo Thant Khing for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.





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