NLD-backed Women’s Congress Rejects Talk of Removing Myanmar Military From Politics

Representatives are warned not to say anything at the conference that would embarrass the armed forces.

May Win Myint, chairwoman of the NLD's Central Women's Work Committee, talks to reporters during a conference in Naypyidaw, July 2, 2018.

Leaders of the Women’s Work Committees Congress, hosted by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, have objected to recommendations from some participants that the country’s powerful military be banned from politics, an official said Monday.

May Win Myint, chairwoman of the NLD’s Central Women’s Work Committee, told the media at the group's first nationwide conference that leaders would not permit discussion by representatives who wanted to raise issues relating to the military at the meeting.

“Yesterday, some of the representatives from a state raised the topic of keeping the military out of politics, and there was applause,” she said. “But every country has a military that performs certain roles, such as having the military operate behind the scenes, while the police and home ministry are on the front lines in some democratic countries.”

Myanmar was led by its powerful army in the form of military dictators or juntas for 50 years until 2011 when a quasi-civilian government under former president Thein Sein came to power.

The country’s constitution, drafted by a military junta in 2008, automatically reserves a quarter of the seats in parliament for military officers, and the military controls three defense and security ministries — defense, border, and home affairs.

Though the current government can get most regular legislation passed easily in the NLD-dominated parliament, the army bloc has made it nearly impossible for the party to change the country’s charter because of an article that gives it a de facto veto over any constitutional changes.

The NLD, which won national elections in a landslide vote in November 2015, pledged to amend the constitution, forge peace inside the country, and uphold the rule of law.

Even before the NLD came to power in late March 2016, the party’s lawmakers proposed amendments to Article 436 that would have lowered the share of parliamentary votes required to approve charter changes from more than 75 to 70 percent, limiting the veto power of the military.

They also proposed amending Article 59(f) of the constitution to change the eligibility requirements that prevented current State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president because her late husband was a foreign national, as are her two sons.

but in June 2015, parliament failed to pass the amendments that would have removed the military’s veto on legislative reform, drawing criticism from NLD lawmakers who expressed doubt over the country’s commitment to democratic change.

“Based on our history, the Tatmadaw [military] has been around since independence, and we cannot remove them from politics,” May Win Myint said.

“It has its own role,” she said. “So I would like to say that I do not accept the complete removal of the military from politics.”

May Win Myint also said that she warned representatives not to say anything at the conference that would embarrass the military.

“The NLD will try to amend the 2008 Constitution only through negotiations such as at the Panglong Conference,” she said, referring to Aung San Suu Kyi’s ongoing peace negotiations with the national military, ethnic armed groups, and government representatives.

The third round of the peace conference, whose inaugural session was held in late August and early September 2016, is scheduled for July 11.

At all administrative levels

Women’s Work Committees have been formed at all administrative levels, including region and state, ward, and village.

The three-day congress, attended by President Win Myint and officials from various ministries, served as a forum for women to give reports on the work of their committees and to discuss how they can provide legal and social assistance for women facing hardship.

Women, who make up more than 51 percent of Myanmar’s population of 53 million, have suffered disproportionately in armed conflicts between the Myanmar army and ethnic militias in the country’s far-flung borderlands for more than half a century.

The United Nations estimates that more than 15,000 people, the majority of whom are women and children, remain displaced in camps or camp-like settings in Shan state after fleeing fighting that erupted in 2011, with continued sporadic hostilities between ethnic armies and the Myanmar military and different ethnic armed groups further compounding the situation.

More than 91,000 people, mostly women and children, remain displaced in neighboring Kachin state as a result of an armed conflict that restarted between government soldiers and ethnic armed groups in 2011.

Rights groups have documented instances of sexual violence against women and girls from ethnic minority groups and accused the army of committing atrocities against them in conflict zones such as northern Rakhine state, where Rohingya Muslims were subject to killings, rape, and torture during military crackdowns in 2016 and 2017.

Rights activists have also noted that women have been largely excluded from peace negotiations to end decades of civil war Myanmar.

Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.