As a group of lawmakers discussed possible changes to Myanmar’s junta-drafted constitution on Tuesday, an ethnic minority member of parliament suggested that those who disagreed on amending a controversial article giving military representatives veto power seek advice from a former military leader.
Kyun Khan, a Chin lawmaker from the Ethnic Development Party, advised parliament to consult Senior General Than Shwe, former commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces and former head of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, an organization formed by the former ruling military junta.
Than Shwe stepped down as head of state in 2011 and was replaced by his hand-picked successor, President Thein Sein.
At issue is a change to Article 436 which gives military lawmakers, who are guaranteed 25 percent of parliamentary seats, an effective veto over charter amendments.
“I believe that we can amend Article 436 by asking advice from Senior General Than Shwe who created this constitution,” Kyun Khan said during the second day of parliamentary deliberations on proposed constitutional amendments.
Currently, at least 75 percent of lawmakers must approve amendments to the constitution. But the amendment bill that 32 lawmakers began discussing on Tuesday lowers the requirement to 70 percent.
Lawmakers from the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, have called for the abolition of Article 436.
But Tin Maung Oo, a lawmaker from the ruling Union party and secretary of the Public Affairs Management Committee, pointed out that the article would likely not be dropped because any amendment would require approval from at least 75 percent of the members of parliament (MPs).
“We don't have more than 75 percent of elected MPs in parliament,” he said. “We can only amend it if at least one military MP votes [in favor of it]. It means we can’t do it if the military doesn’t support it.”
Ko Ni, a legal advisor to the NLD, said the military junta wrote the constitution so that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for parliament to approve changes.
“It is impossible to amend it if the military chief doesn’t want to do it,” he said. “I don’t believe that the military will work to do what’s in the people’s interest. It will continue holding state power.”
“It seems that the military believes it can’t protect its personal interests unless it can hold power," he said. "I believe that the military will never hand over power."
‘A lot of restrictions’
The NLD also has called for abolishing Article 59(f) which prohibits those whose spouses or children hold foreign citizenship from seeking the presidency.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s late husband was a British national, as are her two sons. Her party, which is expected to win a general election later this year, says the article was included in the constitution specifically to prevent Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.
“There are a lot of restrictions in the constitution for people who want to run for president,” said Nainggyan Lin, an NLD lawmaker. “These restrictions were made just for one person.”
The amendment bill that parliament is discussing this week does not seek to change the provision, but it eliminates language that denies presidential eligibility to those whose child has married a foreigner
Brigadier General Tin Soe, a high-ranking military lawmaker, urged the Union parliament to retain Article 59(f).
“If there are people who have to loyalties to other countries, our country would be indirectly under other countries’ control,” he said. “Therefore, the president must be someone who can serve our country without hesitation.
“He or she needs to be a person who can manage the country very well and who all ethnic groups can trust,” he continued. “The future president must be someone who is not related to foreigners.”
But some Union lawmakers debating the amendment bill said the article should be eliminated from the constitution.
“We, the USDP [Union Solidarity and Development Party] members, have asked for the abolishment of Article 59(f) as a party policy,” said Union lawmaker Mya Nyein.
Five MPs will continue discussing the amendment bill on Thursday, when parliament is expected to vote on it.
Reported by Win Naung Tow, Win Ko Ko Latt and Thinn Thiri for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.