A group of military-appointed legislators in Myanmar have submitted a draft bill for a constitutional amendment that would limit the foreign familial connections of those holding high-level government positions, expanding the scope of a measure the army used to keep Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.
Under the current constitution’s Article 59(f), Aung San Suu Kyi was unable to become president despite her National League for Democracy’s (NLD) party's victory in the November 2015 general elections, because her children by her late British husband are foreign citizens. She instead took the post of state counselor, as well as that of foreign minister.
The military-backed amendment proposed this week would impose the same requirements on union and state-level ministerial positions.
The ruling NLD opposes the bill.
NLD lawmaker Myat Nyarna Soe, who also serves as the secretary of the coalition for constitutional amendment, said neither Myanmar’s 1947 or 1974 constitutions had the limitations proposed by the opposition. He said that adding the amendment to the current 2008 constitution, which was drafted by the military, would be a step backward when compared to other countries.
“The constitution should be compared with that of other countries. I don’t see similar limitations in other countries,” he said.
“In some countries, the constitutions even allow foreigners to run as a political candidate after a specific [number of] years from their naturalization,” he added.
He speculated that the proposal of such an amendment by the military party might have an ulterior motive.
“We should also contemplate the possibility that this proposed limitation is targeted at a specific person,” he said, without specifying who it might be targeting.
Brigadier General Maung Maung, the leader of the group of military lawmakers, rebuffed the coalition secretary’s concerns during a media briefing Thursday, saying there are similar clauses in past legal documents, as well as in the constitutions of other countries.
“For example, Section 44 of the constitution of Australia lists the grounds for disqualification for a candidate to join the Parliament of Australia,” he said.
Section 44(i) of that constitution disqualifies “any person who is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power” from becoming a member of Australia’s parliament.
“The constitution is the contract between the state and the citizens of the countries. It has been crafted depending on the situation of each country. These kinds of limitations are not exclusive to our country,” said Maung Maung.
While this law has historically been interpreted by Australia’s Supreme Court to mean dual citizens cannot be elected to parliament, it says nothing about the citizenship status of a prospective candidate’s family members. Australian law also allows for dual-citizen parliamentary hopefuls to renounce their foreign citizenships.
Maung Maung also rejected Myat Nyarna Soe’s concern that the bill targets a specific person, calling it a “very shallow opinion.”
He added that the military group will make more proposals on constitutional amendments if necessary.
An unidentified MP told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the parliament will discuss the bill at the 14 parliamentary meeting, scheduled for November.
Reported by Thet Su Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.