Military lawmakers will not participate in discussions on forming a joint committee to amend Myanmar’s constitution and have submitted a letter objecting to the measure to the parliamentary speaker, the group’s leader said Thursday, two days after the national legislature approved the first step of the measure.
Myanmar’s parliament voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to approve the initial stage of a proposal to form an ad hoc committee to reform the country's constitution, despite opposition from military lawmakers who control a quarter of the seats in the legislature and whose political power would likely be eroded by changes to the existing charter. Their bloc of seats gives them a crucial veto over proposed constitutional changes.
Army legislators oppose the emergency proposal because they say it is not in line with parliamentary law and procedure.
“We officially rejected the proposal [to form a joint committee] by submitting a letter to the Union Parliament speaker,” said Brigadier General Maung Maung, leader of the members of parliament from the armed forces.
“We haven’t decided whether we are going to discuss it during the parliamentary session or not,” he added.
More than 60 lawmakers registered by Thursday’s deadline to discuss the proposal, though RFA could not confirm whether the group included any dissenting military MPs. Discussions will begin on Feb. 1.
Thaung Aye, a lawmaker from the military-backed opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) who represents Mandalay region’s Pyawbwe township, said that if those who oppose the measure need to discuss it, they will do so from the point that the emergency proposal goes against parliamentary procedure.
“If we let it go the way it is, then we’d have to reconsider the dignity of the Union Parliament,” he said.
But Khin Aung Myint, a former speaker of the upper house of parliament who now represents Mandalay region’s No. 8 constituency as a USDP lawmaker, disagreed, saying that lawmakers should review the constitution.
“It is time to review the constitution,” he said. “We have nothing to say if the proposal is one to form a committee for reviewing the constitution. It doesn’t exactly say we are amending the constitution, just reviewing it.”
“But the constitution has to be amended after reviewing it anyway,” he added.
Aung Kyi Nyunt, a lawmaker from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party who submitted the proposal to create the ad hoc committee, noted that MPs do not need to be invited separately to discuss the measure, because they all are required to attend parliamentary meetings.
“As Brigadier General Maung Maung said, they [military MPs] don’t reject amending the constitution, so they have to work with us then,” he said.
Amend it ‘systematically’
Separately on Thursday, Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said he already agreed to amend the constitution at the right time in a “systematic” way during the quasi-civilian USDP government that preceded the NLD administration.
“I already agreed to amend the constitution,” he told reporters in a VOA video broadcast after joint army, navy, and air force exercises in Mandalay’s Meiktila township. “I have never said we would not amend the constitution.”
“I said it many years ago, since the time of the first civilian government,” he said. “But it is important to amend the constitution systematically. And I have nothing to say about anything else. We have to amend what we need to in the constitution when it is necessary.”
Before the NLD won the 2015 general election, it campaigned heavily on a pledge to amend key parts of the 2008 constitution, drafted by a former army junta that ruled the country.
The military objected to calls by the NLD to amend Article 59(f), which bars NLD leader and current State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president, and Article 436, which requires that proposed constitutional changes be supported by more than 75 percent of legislators, effectively allowing the military MP bloc to reject amendments with their veto power.
NLD leaders later backed away from their push after coming to power so as not to provoke the powerful armed forces.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt and Htet Arkar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.