Myanmar’s parliament on Thursday failed to pass amendments to the country’s 2008 junta-drafted constitution that would have removed the military’s effective veto on legislative reform, as opposition lawmakers expressed doubt over the commitment to democratic change.
The proposed amendments to Article 436 would have lowered the share of parliamentary votes required to approve charter changes from more than 75 to 70 percent, limiting the veto power of the military, which is guaranteed a quarter of legislative seats through appointment.
Both amendments received only 66.55 percent of votes in favor, falling short of the 75 percent required for passage, the official Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
Another proposed change to Article 59(f) of the constitution voted down by parliament Thursday would have changed eligibility requirements that effectively bar opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.
The proposal only partially amended the clause, however, meaning she would still have been ineligible if it had been voted into law.
The NLD is widely expected to sweep elections slated for later this year, but Aung San Suu Kyi—whose party won the vote in 1990 but was kept out of office by the then-ruling junta—cannot assume the presidency because her sons are British citizens.
Only one of six proposed amendments was voted in—and amendment to Article 59(d), which changes the working of “military” to “defence” in a clause which requires the president to be well acquainted with the political, administrative, economic and military affairs of the Union.
Of 633 lawmakers, 583 attended the parliamentary meeting and 50 were absent. Of the 583 voters, 467 were elected representatives, or 73.78 percent, while 166, or 26.22 percent, were military appointees.
After the session, Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters that the amendments, proposed by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), fell short of necessary reform, adding that voting against even these limited proposals indicates a lack of willingness for change.
“It’s no big change to decrease the voting threshold from ‘more than 75 percent’ to ‘no less than 70 percent’,” she said.
“Refusing to support even these changes, which are not enough, means that people don’t want change. The MPs who didn’t [vote to amend these important clauses] are the ones who don’t want reform.”
Aung San Suu Kyi said she was not surprised by the result of the vote and added that the NLD would not make its decision about whether to take part in the upcoming election based on this parliamentary meeting alone.
Other members of parliament also expressed frustration with the outcome of Thursday’s vote, which they saw as an impediment to the democratic process in Myanmar, which was ruled by a military junta for almost half a century until 2011.
“Is this a democracy if only one group is holding all power,” questioned Win Myint of the NLD. “I think the answer is clear.”
Aye Thar Aung, of the Arakan National Party, said he had completely lost hope for reforming the country’s charter.
“It is clear that we can’t amend any of the clauses in the constitution that we should before the general election, and there is almost no chance we will be able to do this after the election either,” he said.
Saw Than Myint of the Federal Union Party said the military MPs voted as a block because they are beholden to their ranking superiors.
“Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is the chief of the military,” he said.
“The military MPs didn’t support amending these articles because their chief said it is not time to do so.”
Kyun Khan, an ethnic Chin lawmaker from the Ethnic Development Party, warned against any efforts to force amendments to the constitution that might provide an excuse for the military to seize control of the country again.
“We must proceed very carefully—if there is any unrest, power could return to the nation’s military chief,” he said.
“I think that it is important for the NLD and USDP to discuss and collaborate [to avoid this outcome].”
Nainggyan Lin, of the NLD, also advocated collaboration, which he said should include the military.
“We have alternative ways to amend the constitution and enact, such as agreement through … political talks,” he said.
“We have three important parties—the military, the [NLD] and the USDP … If leaders from these three parties can collaborate for reform, I believe we can achieve success.”
Out of parliament
Min Ko Naing of the 88 Generation Students prodemocracy movement said the outcome of the vote suggested constitutional reform would have to be taken out of the hands of parliament alone.
“We should create a situation to get what we want through a coalition of people both inside and outside of parliament,” he said.
Prominent lawyer Ko Ni said the process should be taken out of parliament entirely.
“[The outcome] warns us that we can’t do anything to amend the constitution inside of parliament and we will need to do some other way,” he said.
Writer and journalist Kyaw Yin Myint said the vote showed that “the military no longer belongs to the people.”
“This is not a good sign for our country,” he said.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Lat, Khin Khin Ei, Thinn Thiri, Myo Thant Khine and Win Naung Toe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.