The new parliamentary joint committee tasked with amending Myanmar’s constitution will review the 48 basic principles of the first chapter of the charter, including the powerful military’s role in politics, amid ongoing objections by legislators from the armed forces, the head of the panel said Monday.
Deputy parliamentary speaker Tun Tun Hein, who chairs the committee, said the 45-member panel will work on amending the 2008 charter, drafted by a previous military junta that ruled the country, according to parliamentary law.
“As I have respectfully told all the MPs, we will work on the issue according to [parliamentary] laws and bylaws,” he said during the committee’s second meeting at parliament in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw. “Please don’t think we would do it above the law. We will do it according to the law.”
The meeting included legislators from the army and the main opposition, military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), who did not participate in the first meeting.
Military MPs, who hold a quarter of the seats in parliament by appointment, and USDP lawmakers, who control five percent of the seats, oppose the committee, arguing that its formation was not in accordance with the constitution and that the house speaker did not listen to lawmakers’ suggestions during meetings held to discuss the panel.
On Saturday, the military said it would stymie attempts by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party to change the “essence” of the country’s constitution, Agence France-Presse reported.
The military also said it would not allow changes to the charter’s 48 basic principles.
Both the military and the USDP initially refused to submit nominees for the joint committee and complained that only a small percentage of military lawmakers would be included on the panel.
The NLD-led government, which faces a general election next year, believes constitutional reform is necessary so that Myanmar can move closer to forming a democratic federal union that includes ethnic minorities.
The NLD, which won the country’s 2015 elections by a landslide ending decades of army-backed rule, had promised to amend the charter. But once in power, it backed off from pursuing the issue so as not to damage its delicate power-sharing relationship with the military.
Chapter by chapter
On Monday, lawmakers discussed amending the constitution chapter by chapter, which chapters they will change, and a timetable for amending them.
The committee also said that it will review the 48 basic principles from Chapter 1, including the military’s role in politics, during its next meeting on March 5.
When asked by RFA’s Myanmar Service to comment on the meeting, military MPs refused to respond, because Major General Tin Swe Win, leader of the eight army legislators assigned to the committee, is traveling abroad.
USDP lawmakers also refused to answer RFA’s questions.
All MPs, except for two military lawmakers who are traveling and one legislator from the Arakan National Party (ANP), attended the joint committee’s second meeting.
NLD lawmaker Aung Kyi Nyunt, who submitted an urgent motion to parliament in January to consider the formation of the committee to kick-start the constitutional amendment process, said that all political parties and groups must now notify the committee about the points they want to change in the first chapter.
“Lawmakers have to submit their opinions on amending Chapter 1 by next Monday,” he said. “They can say why they want to amend points in Chapter 1. For those who don’t want to amend the points, they have to state the reasons.”
The committee will hold regular meetings every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, even when parliament is not in session, and must submit a draft constitutional amendment bill to the chamber by July 17.
USDP takes aim at NLD
Also on Monday, the USDP blamed the NLD for playing politics, criticizing the military, and holding public rallies and campaigns in support of amending the constitution.
USDP spokesman Nandar Hla Myint on Monday rebuffed comments made a day earlier by NLD vice chairman Zaw Myint Maung that the military did not object to the USDP’s attempts to change the charter when the party was in power from 2011 to 2016, but now opposes the NLD’s efforts to do the same.
The NLD has questioned the military’s opposition to the new constitutional reform committee, despite its support for the former USDP government’s bid to amend the charter, including the formation of a parliamentary committee to review proposed amendments.
That committee submitted a bill to parliament to change the constitution, though only a few minor items were amended.
Responding to a reporter’s question at a USDP press conference in Naypyidaw, Nandar Hla Myint called the NLD party leader’s conclusion on the issue incorrect, adding that it was an attempt to mislead public opinion.
Nandar Hla Myint said that the military does not issue orders to the USDP even though the party evolved from a previous military regime.
“Although there are mutual agreements between top military leaders and the USDP’s outlook on certain issues, such as promoting the rule of law in the country and ensuring the survival of the Union, this is not because of premeditation,” he said.
NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt later told RFA that his party did not intend to mislead the public and was merely reminding people of related activities in the past.
The USDP said it objected to the formation of the constitutional reform committee because it was formed by an impromptu proposal in parliament without any negotiations with other parties.
The USDP also accused the NLD of being dishonest in promoting sticker campaigns and public talks on constitutional amendments in various states and regions.
“This is the time to think about how to protect the people’s interests,” Nanda Hla Myint said. “Instead, the ruling party is campaigning to lure the people out into the streets under the agenda of constitutional reform.”
“This is not an honest move,” he went on to say. “NLD leaders speak negligently to propagate the views that the USDP and the military are the roadblocks for constitutional amendments. It is a low-life political plot to win over public opinion to ensure its victory in the coming elections.”
The NLD denied the allegation that its actions are dishonest.
On Feb. 19, Myanmar’s parliament set up a separate 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.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt and Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar and Ye Khaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.