The leader of the 88 Generation students group in Myanmar has warned the government that it may launch a mass movement to push for the removal of the powerful military’s veto in parliament.
Min Ko Naing, head of an organization born out of the 1988 students-led pro-democracy movement crushed by the former junta, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the country would not be able to forge ahead with democracy unless Article 436 of the 2008 military-written constitution was amended.
“In essence, amending the constitution is something we cannot forget or disregard,” he said. “If we bypass this matter, there can be no solution to our political problem.”
Article 436 effectively gives the military, which controls 25 percent of the seats in parliament, a veto over constitutional amendments since it requires more than three-fourths of lawmakers to approve any changes.
Min Ko Naing believes amending Article 436 is key to achieving peace in the country.
“A country's political vista is too wide a spectrum to talk about. But there are two important points—amending the constitution and achieving peace in our country—which cannot be separated from one another,” he said.
Myanmar needs a democratic, federal constitution to achieve the creation of a federal union, Min Ko Naing said.
However, military lawmakers, who are appointed and not elected, have said that they are against any proposed changes to the constitution that will take away the institution’s veto power.
The military’s stand was announced last week by an official of a parliamentary panel tasked with reviewing the constitution. Parliament will discuss the issue and make a final decision in the coming months.
The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a bloc of 12 ethnic armed groups, has warned that failure to amend the constitution to provide more powers to ethnic states would make current efforts to forge a nationwide cease-fire meaningless.
Myanmar was torn apart by armed ethnic conflict during its five decades of military rule before landmark elections in 2010 which propelled President Thein Sein to power.
The ethnic rebel groups are demanding a democratic federal union in which ethnic states could be given greater powers through amendments to the constitution.
The Thein Sein government is negotiating a nationwide ceasefire agreement with all ethnic groups but the effort has been hindered by fighting in recent months between the country military and rebel groups in the country’s Kachin, Shan, Mon, and Kayin states.
“The unfinished business of the armed ethnic groups and the continuing clashes with them are because a federal union could not be achieved,” Min Ko Naing said. “And the reason for not achieving a federal union is because of the constitution.”
The 88 Generation students group has joined forces with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in pushing for constitutional amendments.
Together the NLD and 88 Generation students group collected nearly 5 million signatures during a campaign from May 27 to July 19, calling for an end to the military’s veto power on amendments to the constitution.
The 5 million signatures represent more than 92 percent of Myanmar’s eligible votes, Min Ko Naing said.
“What that shows is that the constitution which was endorsed in the past was invalid,” he said. “It was just propaganda.”
He said the voice of the people in favor of constitutional amendment would be ignored if the ruling party and military refuse to pursue the changes.
A peaceful campaign through a mass movement would have to be launched to push for the changes, he said.
But before this can happen, the Generation 88 student group would explain the situation to Myanmar citizens so their consent is sought to start it, Min Ko Maing said.
“We must give the people both the time and the opportunity to analyze the issue,” he said. “When that is done, only when we are in agreement, can we put our efforts and work together to generate a people’s movement.”
Min Ko Maing also said that the country’s political forces, democracy supporters and armed ethnic groups must work in concert to help push those in power to embark on constitutional and other reforms.
“Only then will our demands be worthy and strong,” he said. “The other side will then view us with respect in discussing and finding solutions. So it is certain that we would have to take the responsibility to work together to proceed to the second stage of our efforts.”
Reported by Khin Maung Soe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Soe Thinn. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.