An opposition-backed petition urging the removal of a military veto over constitutional change in Myanmar has gathered almost three million signatures, with more backing expected, sources said.
The campaign, which runs from May 27 until July 19, has so far brought in signatures from throughout the country covering seven states and seven regions, National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesperson Tun Tun Hein told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Monday.
However, additional returns are still expected from some areas and not all signatures already received have been counted.
“We have collected over 600,000 in Yangon Region, which is the most,” Tun Tun Hein said, referring to results coming in from the country’s commercial center and former capital.
“The second largest number comes from Mandalay Region and Ayeyawaddy Region,” he said, adding that to avoid irregularities in the poll, “we have requested that people sign only once.”
The petition, organized jointly by the NLD and the 88 Generation students group, calls for amendments to Article 436 of Myanmar’s constitution, which allows effective veto power by Myanmar’s military over proposed constitutional amendments.
Under Article 436, charter reform can take place only with the support of 75 percent of lawmakers, and the constitution—written in 2008 under Myanmar’s former military junta regime—reserves 25 of the seats in the country’s parliament for military members who are appointed without election.
A right to reform
The start of the signature campaign came after NLD leader and member of parliament Aung San Suu Kyi was warned by election officials that her support for the campaign has put her in violation of an oath taken by members of parliament to “uphold and abide by” the constitution.
Myanmar citizens have the right to back calls for constitutional reform, though, Aung San Suu Kyi said at a petition-signing event held last month in the country’s capital, Naypyidaw.
Getting rid of the military’s veto is the first step needed to pave the way for other amendments, she said.
“[The constitution] says that if we don’t have approval from the army representatives in parliament, we can’t make any changes to the charter. So please sign [the petition] to make a change.”
The NLD is also calling for amendments to Article 59(F), which prohibits Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president because her two sons are not citizens of Myanmar.
Support for amending Article 436, already strong, may be shown to be even stronger as signatures continue to come in before the campaign ends on July 19, NLD spokesperson Htin Linn Oo said, according to Democratic Voice of Burma on Monday.
“We are still waiting for numbers from places such as northern Sagaing [Region] and Kachin State, which are hard to reach,” Htin Linn Oo said.
Meanwhile, ethnic-based political parties in Myanmar and armed rebel groups negotiating cease-fire agreements with the government after decades of military conflict have called for amendments allowing greater autonomy for ethnic groups and states.
Myanmar’s government, military, and political opposition must now sit down together to discuss these issues openly, Pike Ko, an NLD parliament member from Pakokku, a town in Myanmar’s Magway Region, told RFA on Monday.
“The president and [parliamentary speaker] U Shwe Mann as a group, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and military leaders as a group, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders as a group need to talk about these things face to face and release their discussions to the public,” he said.
In November, Aung San Suu Kyi proposed four-way talks among Thein Sein, Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, Armed Forces Commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and herself on amending the country’s constitution, saying this would boost the process of revising the charter.
But Thein Sein, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and at least one ethnic-based party said any talks among top leaders should wait until after a parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing public proposals for revising the charter completed its work.
The committee has now completed its work, deciding against amending the clause in the charter barring Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president but calling for an amendment to Article 436.
Reported by Kyaw Thu and Yadanar Oo for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.