Nine judges of Burma’s Constitutional Tribunal resigned Thursday after lawmakers passed a resolution impeaching the panel appointed by President Thein Sein, in one of the biggest political crises to hit the nominally civilian government which came to power 18 months ago.
State television announced that Thein Sein had accepted the resignation of all nine members, effectively bowing to demands by a parliament angered by the tribunal’s move to limit the legislature’s scrutiny of government entities.
Nearly three quarters of the lower house lawmakers—307 out of 440—voted earlier on Thursday to impeach the tribunal, which rules on whether legislation is in line with the country’s 2008 constitution. The upper house voted for the impeachment last month.
Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann said that the judges had failed to discharge their duties effectively as he announced the result of the vote in the capital Naypyidaw.
"We have found that the chair of the Constitutional Tribunal Thein Soe and the tribunal’s members … are not able to perform their duties well and have broken constitutional law, as the two houses of parliament have accused them of doing, and therefore I declare the decision that they should not continue with their duties,” he said.
Limits on power
Lawmakers were angered by a ruling by the tribunal in March limiting the power of parliamentary panels to summon ministers for questioning.
The decision was made in response to Thein Sein’s request to the tribunal to define whether parliamentary committees, commissions, and organizations are union-level, or central-level, organizations under the constitution.
The tribunal said the parliamentary panels set up by both the lower and upper houses are not union-level bodies, effectively taking away parliament’s right to scrutinize government entities which are deemed union-level and dampening legislative oversight over the executive branch.
According to a ruling by Thein Sein’s office aired on state television, the tribunal’s nine members resigned on their own accord, reports said.
Following the country’s landmark elections in November 2010 after decades of harsh military rule, lawmakers have been more vocal than expected despite limited powers under the military-dominated legislature.
The row over the role of the tribunal had exposed political rivalries within the government, pitting members of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) against the president as they sought a greater role for parliament in the country’s new political system.
In a speech to parliament before the vote, USDP lawmaker Soe Yin said there was a need for "checks and balances" in Burma’s new political system.
"To attack the parliament is to attack the people," he said.
The impeachment was supported by all political parties, including the USDP and opposition parties.
Those opposed were mostly unelected military representatives, which are guaranteed a quarter of the seats in parliament under Burma’s constitution, drawn up in 2008 under the former military regime.
Thein Sein and the two house speakers must now choose three new judges each for the tribunal — made up mostly of academics or legal experts—and submit the list to lawmakers for approval.
Reported by RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.