Myanmar’s parliament on Tuesday approved the creation of a 45-member joint committee to write a bill to amend the army-drafted 2008 constitution that the current government views as undemocratic, despite opposition by lawmakers from the military and the main opposition party, legislators said.
Before the voting began, several members of parliament, including a military legislator, made requests to discuss the issue during the parliamentary meeting, but parliamentary speaker T Khun Myat rejected them.
The measure, approved by a vote of 389-192, establishes a committee comprising 18 lawmakers from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, eight military MPs, two legislators each from the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Arakan National Party (ANP), and Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), and 13 other lawmakers, according to the online journal The Irrawaddy.
The term of the committee chaired by deputy speaker Tun Tun Hein will run until a draft constitutional reform bill is submitted to parliament.
“We will focus on producing a draft bill for amendments to the constitution,” he said. “We will not try to amend the constitution by taking a shortcut.”
Lower house lawmaker Thaung Aye from the USDP said that lawmakers from the main opposition party will work with the committee if it focuses on amending the constitution according to law. If not, it will be difficult for them to do so, he said.
The USDP, which controls five percent of the seats in parliament, and military MPs refused to submit nominees for the joint committee, arguing that its formation is not in accordance with the constitution and that the house speaker did not listen to lawmakers’ suggestions during meetings held to discuss the committee. They also complained that only a small percentage of military lawmakers will be included on the panel.
Military MPs comprise 25 percent of the seats in the Assembly of the Union to which they are appointed, not elected, under the 2008 constitution drafted by an army junta that previously ruled the country. They, therefore, say that they should have the same proportion of seats on the new committee.
“We want everybody to think about what the house speaker did on this issue abusing his powers and without negotiations with lawmakers who were holding two meetings to discuss the issue,” Thaung Aye said. “Was it appropriate or not to have this situation in Hluttaw [parliament]?”
“The Hluttaw speaker said the committee will work in line with the constitution, but we don’t believe him because they have prevaricated many times,” said Brigadier General Maung Maung, leader of parliament’s military MPs.
He went on to say that military lawmakers would try to participate in the committee’s discussions if other members do so in accordance with the law, but that army legislators had yet to decide how to participate in the panel.
“As the committee is trying to amend the constitution, we, as the group safeguarding the constitution, want 25 percent of military members on the committee,” he said.
Efforts to amend
Despite opposition from the USDP and military MPs, committee secretary Myat Nyarna Soe said the members of the new panel will begin their meetings as soon as possible.
“We now have the majority in the committee,” he said. “Even if we have only a few members, the committee will work on what it has to do as it was formed by the Hluttaw.”
Also on Tuesday, Myanmar’s parliament set up a 30-member committee to study a bill put forward by USDP lawmakers to amend Article 261 of the constitution to allow regional chief ministers to be elected by local legislators rather than appointed by the country's president.
Khin Maung Win, a lower house MP from the NLD has been appointed committee chairman, and brigadier general-level military lawmakers and legislators from other political parties will be members.
In the run-up to the 2015 general election, which the NLD won by a landslide over the military-backed USDP, the political party pledged to make certain changes to the constitution if it came into power.
But once the NLD was in office, it was reluctant to continue pushing for amendments that would provoke or anger the country’s powerful military, which wants to maintain the status quo.
The NLD, which controls 59 percent of the seats in parliament, faces its next general election in 2020.
Besides granting the military an automatic quarter of the seats in the national and regional parliaments, the current constitution also gives army MPs 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.
NLD lawmaker Aung Kyi Nyunt submitted an urgent motion to parliament in January to consider the formation of the committee to kick-start the constitutional amendment process.
Though military MPs stood in silence to boycott the vote on whether to take up the measure, lawmakers approved the proposal in early February and held subsequent meetings to discuss it.
Army legislators continue to oppose the measure because they say it is not in line with parliamentary law and procedure.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.