Myanmar President Thein Sein told the country’s lawmakers Wednesday that they have a “responsibility” to amend the constitution, ahead of a meeting among the nation’s top leaders on how to proceed with charter reforms.
A day earlier, Myanmar’s parliament had adopted a motion calling for urgent talks between Thein Sein, military chief Min Aung Hlaing, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, speakers of the two houses of parliament, Shwe Mann and Khin Aung Myint, and a representative of the country’s ethnic parties on amendments to the 2008 junta-backed constitution, in what is seen as a major reform move.
“Everybody has the responsibility to amend the constitution, especially the MPs, whose role in legislation is very important,” Thein Sein told leaders from 67 political parties during a meeting at the division parliament in the commercial capital Yangon.
“I think MPs should try hard using goodwill to amend the constitution, as it is very important for the country and the people,” he said at the meeting, which included members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
Thein Sein did not specify what about the constitution should be amended or give a timeframe for doing so.
Parliament is currently discussing recommendations made in a report submitted last month by the legislature’s constitutional amendment committee, but progress has stalled following opposition by military lawmakers to changing an article which effectively gives them a veto over charter reforms.
Parliament speaker Shwe Mann, who heads the USDP, has said that key constitutional amendments would require a referendum in May after parliamentary approval.
But he said no changes would be implemented until after the general election late next year. A bill paving the way for the referendum was passed by parliament on Monday.
Thein Sein on Wednesday also reviewed a litany of reforms his quasi-civilian administration has initiated since taking power from the former military regime in 2011, including efforts to forge a nationwide peace pact with armed ethnic rebels and a controversial education law that student groups say will curb academic freedoms.
Afterwards, the president responded to questions and opinions presented by members from each of the 67 political parties and pledged to hold similar meetings in the future to better gauge the interests of the nation’s varied stakeholders.
While several lawmakers from the national parliament have spoken in support of the six-leader talks, which the NLD has said could be held as early as Friday, others have questioned whether they will serve to push the constitutional reform process forward.
One question which remains to be answered is whether Thein Sein can convince Myanmar’s military to accept changes to article 436 of the constitution, which is seen as the key to any deeper charter reforms.
The military controls 25 percent of seats in parliament and can reject any proposed amendments because article 436 requires more than 75 percent of parliamentary representatives to approve any change.
The NLD and Myanmar’s 88 Generation students group collected nearly 5 million signatures during a campaign from May 27 to July 19 to press for the removal of the military's veto power over charter changes.
Amending article 436 would pave the way for other constitutional reforms, including to Article 59(F) of the charter, which prohibits Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting the presidency in next year’s general elections because her two sons are British citizens.
Last week, most military lawmakers rejected amending articles 436 and 59(F).
Meanwhile, the NLD said it had extended invitations to around 70 military lawmakers to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital Naypyidaw on Thursday.
NLD lawmaker Myo Aung told RFA that the military MPs had received the invitations, but had yet to accept them, pending approval from their senior officers.
“We hear that the military representatives want to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD is willing to arrange a meeting with them, as we are always open to talks with others,” he said.
Myo Aung did not provide details on what topics might be covered in the meeting.
Aung San Suu Kyi, however, downplayed the significance of the meeting, suggesting it would be “just like having lunch together.”
Earlier this week, the opposition leader met with several lawmakers from ethnic parties in the capital.
Reported by Myo Zaw Ko and Win Naung Toe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.