Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged supporters Tuesday to “test” the country’s parliament with calls for constitutional reform, kicking off a two-month petition campaign demanding changes to the country’s military-drafted charter.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman made the remarks while pushing ahead with the campaign, jointly organized by the 88 Generation Students activist group, despite a recent warning from election officials that she was violating her duty as a parliamentarian to uphold the charter.
Speaking to some 3,000 supporters at an NLD office in the capital Naypyidaw after signing her name to the petition, Aung San Suu Kyi said parliament’s reaction to the campaign’s calls for charter change will be a measure of how responsive the institution is to Myanmar’s people in the wake of democratic reforms.
“I’m asking you to join us because we want to introduce a peaceful tradition that can bring change,” she said.
“Let’s test whether parliament reflects the opinions and attitudes of the people.”
Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD and the 88 Generation activists have been holding rallies around the country in recent weeks in a campaign to have the charter amended to remove the military’s effective veto on constitutional amendments.
The constitution, written in 2008 under the country’s former military junta regime, reserves 25 percent of the seats in parliament for military members who are appointed without election.
Article 436 of the document says charter reform can take place only with the support of more than 75 percent of lawmakers, giving the military power to override any proposed amendments.
The start of the signature portion of the campaign comes after Aung San Suu Kyi received a warning letter from election officials Monday that comments she made at a recent rally were in breach of the oath she had taken when joining parliament two years ago.
The opposition leader had said at a rally in Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon earlier this month that she wanted to “challenge” the military to change the constitution by the end of the year.
Union Election Committee Secretary Tin Tun said in a letter sent to her and posted on Facebook that she had been “speaking outside of the boundaries of the Constitution” and had violated the code for members of parliament, according to the Irrawaddy journal.
The oath taken by members of parliament includes a pledge to “uphold and abide by” the constitution, which has a clause requiring political parties “abide by and respect” the charter and existing laws.
'Everyone can sign'
At the petition-signing event in Naypyidaw, Aung San Suu Kyi assured supporters that backing calls for change to the constitution was well within their rights.
“Every citizen should do what he or she wants, as long as he or she doesn’t break the law or harm anyone.”
“Everyone can come and sign the list to show their support for amending the constitution. They have the right to do so.”
Getting rid of the military’s veto was the first step needed to pave the way for other amendments, she said.
“[The constitution] says that if we don’t have approval from the army representatives in parliament, we can’t make any changes to the charter. So please sign [the petition] to make a change.”
The signature campaign runs until July 19, after which entries will be submitted to parliaments’ Constitution Review Committee, according to the Irrawaddy.
The NLD and 88 Generation are calling for changes to be made well ahead of the country’s next general elections, slated for late next year.
At a signature-collecting event at the 88 Generation group’s offices in Yangon, activists said they would work with members of the United Nationalities Alliance—a key coalition of ethnic minority groups—to hold rallies calling for constitutional reform.
“We believe that we can’t do anything to amend the constitution by ignoring ethnic people’s rights,” 88 Generation Students activist Mya Aye told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“There is a big role for ethnic people to play in amending the constitution,” she said.
Ethnic-based political parties in Myanmar and armed rebel groups negotiating cease-fire agreements with the government after decades of military conflict have called for amendments that allow ethnic groups and states greater autonomy.
The NLD is also calling for amendments to Article 59(F), which prohibits Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president because her two sons are not citizens of Myanmar.
On Saturday, the U.N’s top human rights envoy to Myanmar expressed concern over the military's veto power on constitutional changes, saying charter reform is vital ahead of the election.
U.N. Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana, who is completing his six-year term this month, told reporters constitutional reform is a “crucial step” in the country’s transition “to a more democratic nation,” according to the Associated Press.
Reported by Win Naung Toe and Yadana Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.