Myanmar’s 88 Generation Students civil society group on Wednesday backed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s proposal for four-way talks with President Thein Sein, the parliamentary speaker, and the military chief to lay the groundwork for constitutional reforms.
But the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and at least one ethnic-based party, however, said any talks among top leaders should wait until after a parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing public proposals for revising the charter completes its work in January.
Aung San Suu Kyi had late last month proposed a meeting between Thein Sein, Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, Armed Forces Commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and herself to discuss the prospect of amending the constitution.
The charter contains provisions that bar the 68-year-old Nobel laureate from becoming president, and her National League for Democracy has called for sweeping amendments to be made ahead of the next national elections in 2015.
Min Ko Naing, leader of the 88 Generation Students' Group, a prominent pro-democracy activist organization, said the four-way meeting should be held without delay.
“My opinion is that this is an important thing to do as soon as possible, though it should be systematic,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“People who can make decisions for the country must meet at anytime as needed. We also need to have talks in which ethnic [leaders] can propose what they need,” he said.
Myanmar’s ruling officials have mostly expressed support for constitutional amendments, but with elections two years away, some observers say the process so far has been slow.
In response to Aung San Suu Kyi’s request to meet, Thein Sein’s spokesman Ye Htut said Tuesday that any talks about constitutional amendments should include all Myanmar political parties and ethnic groups and be held after the parliamentary committee’s review.
The charter, written in 2008 toward the end of decades of military rule, reserves a quarter of seats in parliament for the military and requires a three-quarters majority for a national referendum on proposed amendments.
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.
Aung San Suu Kyi has labeled the constitution fundamentally “undemocratic” and called for extensive changes, including to the process for making amendments.
In a clause some believe was written specifically to target Aung San Suu Kyi, whose two sons have British citizenship, the constitution says anyone whose relatives are foreign citizens or hold foreign citizenship is not qualified to serve as president or vice-president.
Call for all-inclusive meeting
USDP Vice Chairman Htay Oo said the party would be open to amending the article on presidential qualifications, but that any meeting discussing constitutional reform should be all-inclusive.
“It would be good to have a meeting with all political parties,” he told RFA.
“If amending this article is not harmful to the whole country and if our country’s sovereignty isn’t harmed because of amending this article, we have to do it.”
“If it would harm our country’s sovereignty to amend this article, then we mustn’t,” he said.
The 109-member parliamentary review committee, formed in June, is currently accepting proposals from the public and will report on them in January, a month later than originally scheduled after it extended the deadline last month.
Committee chairman Aye Mauk, a USDP lawmaker, said discussion about amendments should wait until after his panel reports on its findings.
“I think it would be better if these leaders discussed after we received suggestions and opinions from the people,” he said.
“It would be better for these leaders to discuss this once they have the information gathered from the people, rather than having talks without any data.”
Han Shwe, a lawmaker from the military-linked National Unity Party, backed the USDP proposal to wait for discussion until after the review committee’s report.
“We agreed to amend the constitution in parliament. We formed a review committee to amend the constitution,” he said.
“I think this should only be dealt with in parliament, as on any issue we are working in an all-inclusive process.”
Khun Htun Oo, secretary of the ethnic-based Shan National League for Democracy, said Myanmar’s many newly formed political parties as well as ethnic armed groups should be included in discussions about constitutional reform.
“I think that it would be good to talk with the over 40 parties that are not in the parliament yet, as well as with other NGOs and organizations on this issue,” he said.
“The decisions from the ethnic armed groups are also important.”
Reported by Thin Thiri, Khin Khin Ei, and Kyaw Kyaw Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.