Lawmakers from Myanmar’s main opposition party and the military on Thursday said they submitted a list of nominees to be included on a new joint committee focusing on constitutional reform, despite their ongoing opposition to the panel which they claim has not been formed according to relevant laws and procedures.
The bloc of appointed military legislators, who hold 25 percent of the seats in parliament, put forward eight representatives for the 45-member committee, while the military-backed opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which holds five percent of assembly seats, submitted two.
The committee is tasked with drafting a bill to amend the army-drafted 2008 constitution that the current government views as undemocratic and not conducive to the development of a federal democratic union.
Parliament approved a motion on Tuesday to include 45 lawmakers on the panel, including 18 from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, eight military MPs, two legislators each from the USDP, Arakan National Party (ANP), and Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), and 13 legislators from other parties.
At the time, USDP and the military MPs refused to submit nominees for the joint committee, arguing that the panel's formation was not in accordance with the constitution, and that the house speaker ignored lawmakers’ suggestions during meetings to discuss the committee. They also complained that only a small percentage of military lawmakers would be included on the panel.
Brigadier General Maung Maung, the leader of the military MP bloc, said army legislators will abide by parliament’s decision, but added a caveat.
“[We] will oppose any discussion on amending the constitution that could harm the interest of the nation and all the people, including ethnics,” he said.
“We, the Tatmataw [military] representatives, will support it if [the committee’s plan] doesn’t go against the interest of the nation and all people, including ethnic [minorities], and that everyone agrees,” he said, adding that the bloc has yet to study the details about the panel and its work.
Lower house lawmaker Thaung Aye from the USDP said his party must adhere to parliament's decision to create the committee.
“A list of the names have been sent,” he said. “As parliamentarians, we have to follow the parliament’s instructions and orders. We can’t say that we don’t like this party or that person. Parliament’s instructions and orders are legally binding. We have to abide by them, so we sent the names and will join the meetings.”
The USDP’s two initial nominees were invited to join the committee’s first meeting on Wednesday, but then they were rejected, and the party put forward two others, he said.
‘We welcome them’
Committee secretary Myat Nyarna Soe said he welcomed the moves by the military and the USDP.
“We’ve already said that we would welcome them, and we always will welcome them,” he said. “So it’s really appreciated that they are joining.”
The committee will hold a second meeting on Feb. 25 and begin talks on possible amendments to the controversial constitution that enshrines the political power of Myanmar’s military.
The panel is scheduled to submit a bill to parliament by July 17.
Besides allocating officers an automatic quarter of the seats in the national and regional parliaments, the charter gives them a crucial veto over proposed constitutional changes and control of three security and defense ministries. It also lets them select one of Myanmar’s three vice presidents.
Before the civilian NLD-led government came to power in 2016, it promised to change certain sections of the constitution that it viewed as undemocratic, but later backed down to avoid antagonizing the military with which it must share power.
MDCF protests against charter
Also on Thursday, some 50 activists from the Movement for Democracy Current Force (MDCF) staged a protest outside a courthouse in Yangon’s Yankin township, calling for the abolishment of the constitution and the resignation of Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Kyaw Swe.
During the demonstration, police detained leading activist Kyaw Zin Latt for questioning, members of the group said.
The MDCF staged the rally because it claims that the referendum on the current constitution in 2008 was fraudulent, with more than 6 million bogus ballots cast under the names of dead voters, many of whom perished during Cyclone Nargis that year.
The group also claims that Kyaw Swe violated the Police Disciplinary Act, though it did not elaborate.
Kyaw Swe, who has served as home affairs minister since 2016, was previously commander of the Myanmar military’s Southwestern Regional Command in Pathein in Ayeyarwady region.
Though the MDCF sought permission from Yankin Township Police to hold the protest outside the courthouse, they were told they could stage it in a park in Yangon’s Tamwe township.
The group, however, held the protest outside the courthouse where detained MDCF leader Htin Kyaw, who was arrested in August 2018 on charges of incitement under Section 505 of the Penal Code, appeared for his hearing.
The well-known human rights activist has been repeatedly arrested and jailed for peaceful political activities.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt and Thant Zin Oo. Translated by Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.