More than 100 people in south-central Myanmar’s Bago region staged a protest on Tuesday calling for the abolishment of the country’s 2008 constitution, in a reprise of grassroots demonstrations demanding the scrapping of the military-drafted charter that filled the streets before Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian party came to power.
One lawyer and four members of the People’s Advocacy Network gave speeches at the demonstrations in Paungde township demanding renewed efforts to change a charter that gives the military a veto over key state policies despite the formal end of military rule.
“We gave speeches at the Yangon-Pyay junction on abolishing the 2008 constitution,” said Khin Maung Hlaing, Member of the township’s People’s Advocacy Network.
Protest leaders said they will hold another rally in western Bago and one with residents from six townships in Pyay district.
State Counselor’s Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which came to power two years ago, had pushed for changes to the 2008 constitution to dilute the military’s political power when it was the main opposition party under the quasi-civilian government of former President Thein Sein.
Farmers, students, workers, Buddhist monks, community leaders, and civil society groups participated in dozens of rallies in 2014 and 2015, calling for the abolishment of the military-drafted constitution along with democratic reforms.
In 2014, the NLD and the 88 Generation Students’ Group, a pro-democracy movement known for its activism against the country's military junta, staged demonstrations during which leaders gave speeches and members collected more than 5 million signatures demanding that lawmakers amend the constitution.
They specifically sought changes to Article 436 of the charter, which gives the military a de facto veto over any constitutional changes.
At that time, Aung San Suu Kyi said that getting rid of the military’s veto would be the first step to pave the way for other charter amendments.
But in June 2015, Myanmar’s parliament failed to pass 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.
The NLD’s proposed amendments to Article 436 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, which is guaranteed a quarter of legislative seats through appointment.
Opposition lawmakers also had proposed amending Article 59(f) of the constitution to change the eligibility requirements that prevented Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president because her late husband was a foreign national, as are her two sons.
Siding with the army
Though the NLD came to power in March 2016 after winning national elections by a landslide in 2015, and Aung San Suu Kyi got around Article 59(f) by becoming state counselor under current proxy President Htin Kyaw, she has continued to be constricted by the military, which controls three security and defense ministries.
Her plans to hold a series of national peace conferences to end Myanmar’s decades-long civil wars have been thwarted by continued fighting between the national military and ethnic militias.
Aung San Suu Kyi also has failed to rein in security forces during and after a brutal military crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine state, which began in August 2017 and has driven nearly 700,000 members of the Muslim group to Bangladesh.
Faced with international pressure to end the humanitarian crisis and to hold the army accountable for violence against the Rohingya, the government has sided with the military and denied accusations of atrocities, which the United Nations and the United States have said amount to ethnic cleansing.
Reported by Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.