Myanmar’s President Approves Referendum on Charter Change

myanmar-thein-sein-attends-meeting-in-parliament-nov26-2014.jpg Myanmar President Thein Sein attends a meeting between Union ministers and Yangon-based political parties at the parliament building in Yangon Nov. 26, 2014.

Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has approved a referendum to be held this year on amendments to the country’s 2008 junta-backed constitution, reports said Wednesday.

Thein Sein late Tuesday gave the go ahead to the vote, Reuters news agency reported, which could signal changes to the charter which grants effective veto power to Myanmar’s military.

The referendum could be held as early as May, ahead of a general election slated for later this year, Reuters said, citing Thein Nyunt, a lawmaker from parliament’s lower house, and Aye Maung, a representative of the upper house.

“Now that the law has been enacted, the Election Commission is soon expected to name a suitable date for the referendum in May,” Thein Nyunt said.

Aye Maung also confirmed Thein Sein had given approval, Reuters said, though it remained unclear what amendments would be considered in the vote.

Aung San Suu Kyi is likely to welcome the referendum, as her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party has been pushing for changes to the charter it has said contains clauses that are holding Myanmar back from its transition to a democracy after five decades of military rule.

She wants an amendment to the 2008 constitution to curb the political power of the military, which controls a quarter of the seats in parliament through appointment and holds an effective veto over charter reform.

Another clause the NLD has petitioned against is one which makes Aung San Suu Kyi ineligible for the country’s presidency because her sons are British nationals, as was her late husband.

Last year, the NLD garnered some five million signatures for a petition calling on parliament to change the clauses.

Parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann, a presumed presidential candidate and current head of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), said in November that the constitution can be amended only after the 2015 elections.

His announcement was immediately challenged by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, which said he had no authority to make the decision.

Parliament decided earlier this month to grant ethnic Rohingya Muslim holders of temporary identification cards, known as white cards, the right to vote in a referendum, angering Buddhist nationalists who consider them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

But Thein Sein declared Wednesday that the white cards would become invalid in March, reversing the decision to allow holders to vote on the charter, just hours after hundreds of people demonstrated in the commercial capital Yangon against the measure.


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