Suu Kyi Defends Plan for Talks on Myanmar Charter Review

assk-australia-nov-2013.jpg Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi walks through the gardens of Government House in Sydney, Nov. 27, 2013.

Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has defended her proposal for four-way talks with President Thein Sein, the parliamentary speaker, and the military chief on amending the country’s constitution, saying it would boost the process of revising the military-written charter.

Aung San Suu Kyi had late last month proposed a meeting between Thein Sein, Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, Armed Forces Commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and herself to discuss the prospect of amending the constitution, adopted under the former military regime.

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 completes its work in January.

Speaking to RFA’s Myanmar Service on Wednesday, Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said the four-way talks would supplement the parliamentary committee’s role in examining the constitutional amendment process.

“It is better to hold a discussion with these [three] leaders at the same time that the review committee is working on its process to amend the constitution,” she said.

“I requested this meeting because I want the process to amend the constitution to be smoother.”

The 68-year-old Nobel laureate said it would be “easy [for the government] to have this meeting if they wanted it.”

“They should give their reasons if they don’t want [to meet],” she said.

In response to Aung San Suu Kyi’s request to meet, Thein Sein’s spokesman Ye Htut said Tuesday that any talks about constitutional amendments should include all Myanmar political parties and ethnic groups and be held after the parliamentary committee’s review.

Aung San Suu Kyi has labeled the constitution fundamentally “undemocratic” and called for extensive changes, including to the process for making amendments.

Civil society support

Earlier this week, the 88 Generation Students’ Group, a pro-democracy civil society group, threw its weight behind Aung San Suu Kyi, with leader Min Ko Naing saying the meeting should be held “as soon as possible.”

On Thursday, senior 88 Generation member Jimmy Kyaw Min Yu reiterated his group’s support for the proposed talks, saying that “meetings with stakeholders who can make important decisions for the country should be held whenever possible.”

“As this is a time of nation building, a meeting between these key players shouldn’t be that difficult,” he said.

“We need to get into the practice of holding meetings between stakeholders as often as we can.”

Jimmy Kyaw Min Yu said the 88 Generation Students’ Group plans to submit its proposal explaining how and why the constitution should be amended to the country’s parliamentary review committee during the last week of December and would “closely monitor the amendment process.”

“We are going to submit that the … constitution is not one that is in accordance with the people’s opinions and wishes,” he told RFA.

The three-point proposal will call for clauses that make the constitution easier to amend in the future, advance federalism by decreasing centralized control of the country, and give greater power to representatives elected by the people, he said.

He said his group is also in opposition to provisions in the constitution that bar anyone whose relatives are foreign citizens or hold foreign citizenship from serving as president or vice-president—a clause some believe was written specifically to target Aung San Suu Kyi, whose two sons have British citizenship.

“I think this article is one that must be amended,” Jimmy Kyaw Min Yu said. “Everybody has to have equal rights under a democratic constitution.”

But he stressed that the charter should be amended and not entirely rewritten, as some stakeholders who fear their concerns will not be addressed in the process have suggested.

“If we wrote a new one, it would take too much time. We have agreed to amend it according to an all-inclusive system,” he said.

Sweeping changes

The NLD has called for sweeping amendments to the constitution ahead of Myanmar’s next national election in 2015.

The country’s ruling officials have mostly expressed support for constitutional amendments, but with elections two years away, some observers say the process so far has been slow.

The charter, written in 2008 toward the end of decades of military rule, reserves a quarter of seats in parliament for the military and requires a three-quarters majority for a national referendum on proposed amendments.

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 that allow ethnic groups and states greater autonomy.

The 109-member parliamentary review committee, formed in June, is currently accepting proposals for amending the constitution from the public and will report on them in January, a month later than originally scheduled after it extended the deadline last month.

Reported by Khin Khin Ei. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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