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Myanmar: Charter Amendment Proposals Submitted despite Army’s Objections:

Paper No. 6569              Dated  20- July-2019

By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

The 45-member Parliamentary Committee formed to examine and recommend proposals for Constitutional amendments submitted its report on 15th of July.

This Committee represented 14 political parties, some independents and surprisingly included the Army’s representatives too. The Army Representatives did not however give any proposal while its party the USDP made some ten proposals

There were huge rallies on 17th July in support of the constitutional amendments in Yangon, Mandalay, Sagaing, Bago, Tanintharayi region and in Shan State.  In Yangon the rally was joined by lawyers, activists and writers and petitions were collected demanding charter reforms by the participants./

It was in January 29 this year that the NLD took courage to take up the issue of openly seeking constitutional amendments.  One of its law makers U Aung Kyi made a proposal in the Parliament to form a Joint Parliamentary Committee to work on amending the charter.

The proposal was objected to immediately by the Army Representatives who form 25 percent of the legislature on procedural grounds and not according to the Constitution.  They all rose to their feet as is their custom when they object to any proposal or legislation.  Their objections were overruled, and the proposal was approved with an overwhelming majority of 471 in favour, 191 against and 6 abstentions.

The Committee met twenty-one times and over 4000 suggestions were considered.   A list of 3765 recommendations has been forwarded for discussion in the Parliament after which, the a bill will be drafted for amendment. It will be at this point that the Army may consider vetoing the bill.

The Army Representatives and its proxy the USDP continue to maintain that the proposals are peremptory and against constitutional procedures.

One may ask that with the Article 436 that gives the Army an effective Veto on Constitutional Reforms, what use is there in proceeding with a review of the proposals and then make out a bill? When the Army is totally opposed to any amendment and without its clearance, the whole move would end up as an “exercise in futility”.

This line of argument is valid, and it looks that NLD must have weighed its options in moving the proposal.  It is almost certain that the civilian Government will not cross the red lines to give the Army an excuse to intervene!

 But the Army should know (they are sufficiently thick skinned and do not care for World opinion either) that people by and large are against Army having a “strangle hold” on the country.

Some amendments could still be made like the election of a provincial Head and not selection as is the current provision in the Constitution and one glaring example is the situation in Rakhine State.

But it is important to know the thinking of various political parties including the ethnic groups on the amendments they have sought.

The general thrust of the changes demanded were

1. Reducing the role of the military

2. Decentralizing the State power and

3. Ensuring equality and rule of law for all citizens.

The Ethnic parties want the Army to withdraw from politics and return to the barracks while the NLD had proposed a gradual reduction- 15 percent leading to 2020 elections and a gradual reduction beyond.

The ANP had suggested that the Tatmadaw (Army) should be overseen by an Elected Defence Minister.

The NLD had proposed the scrapping of Article 338 of the Constitution that says that all armed forces shall be under the control of the Defence forces.  There is also a proposal that the present Army heads of Home affairs, Defence and border affairs, should retire after completing their terms.

Though late in the day, as said earlier, it was a bold move by Suu Kyi to introduce the amendments to the Charter though it was known that it would be opposed tooth and nail by the Army. 

She must also be aware that unless a federal character is introduced into the Constitution was intended in the original Panglong spirit, the country will continue to face instability and dissatisfaction.

She has also to take into consideration the aspirations of the Bamars who had overwhelmingly voted for her and her party and when there was a lurking danger of losing considerably in the coming elections of 2020.