Myanmar Lawmakers Propose Constitutional Reforms to Dilute Military Control

Lawmakers from Myanmar’s ruling party have suggested abolishing or amending constitutional articles enshrining the power of the country’s military in politics, according to a report issued Monday by the committee tasked with proposing democratic changes to the 11-year-old charter.

Committee legislators from the National League for Democracy (NLD) have proposed getting rid of Article 20 authorizing the commander-in-chief of the armed forces to oversee the country’s security and defense institutions, and to gradually phase out the quarter of national and regional parliamentary seats automatically reserved for military officers under another article, legislators said.

NLD members of parliament also suggested changing Article 436 so that the support of only two-thirds of elected lawmakers would be necessary to approve constitutional changes instead of the current 75 percent-plus requirement that effectively allows the military bloc to reject amendments with their built-in veto power.

NLD legislators also called for the elimination of Article 338 mandating that all armed forces in Myanmar be placed under the supervision of the military and Article 339, which gives the military a leadership role in protecting the state from internal and external threats.

We comprise the majority in this 45-member committee, so we included all the points we want to change, said NLD lower house lawmaker Aung Hlaing Win from Yangon’s Mingaladon township.

The important point in the proposal is to reduce the percentage of the composition of military-appointed members of parliament every five years, he said, adding that under the proposed three-phase reduction only five percent would remain after 2031.

What is more important is that the amendment should be within the constitutional framework, so it will need approval from all, he said.

The NLD, which faces general elections next year, had one of its lawmakers put forward an emergency proposal in late January to create the ad hoc committee to amend the military-drafted 2008 constitution.

Lawmakers from the armed forces and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) oppose the move because it would diminish their political power.

The 45-member Joint Committee on Amending the 2008 Constitution, comprising representatives from 14 political parties, has been reviewing the constitution for possible amendments since it was set up six months ago. Its report includes more than 3,760 suggestions for charter changes.

The committee’s eight military representatives did not submit suggestions or comment on the proposals to reform the current charter, and instead held firm to its stance that the committee was not set up according to constitutional rules.

Military lawmakers attended Monday’s parliamentary session on the report out of respect for the parliament and will discuss among themselves whether to participate in further talks on the subject, said Brigadier General Maung Maung who leads the group of military legislators.

Ethnic political parties proposed more than 3,000 changes, with the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) putting forward more than 1,100 points, the Arakan National Party (ANP) nearly 860, and the Mon National Party (MNP) just over 640.

SNLD secretary Sai Kyaw Nyunt said the real challenge will be reducing the mandatory 25 percent of military-appointed lawmakers.

If we are transitioning towards democracy, then this 25-percent composition should be removed, he said. This will be the most difficult challenge because military legislators will not easily agree to limit or remove their power.

Besides, the 2008 constitution itself has its own limitations such as Article 436 to make the changes impossible, he said. We have to come up with solutions to overcome this.

‘We will not agree’

The NLD suggested 114 changes to the charter, while the main opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) put forth the least amount at 10.

We are going to have discussions on the 10 proposals we have made, said USDP lawmaker Thein Tun, about the committee’s report. We are not going to touch on other points.

NLD lawmakers on the committee also proposed ditching Article 59(f), which bars Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president because she has relatives who are foreign nationals. Aung San Suu Kyi’s late husband was a British citizen, as are her two sons.

But Thein Tun said the article should be kept as it is.

Others can go ahead with the discussions about [the changes] they want, but we will not vote for them, he said. To be frank, we are going to discuss only the 10 proposals we have made. As for the rest, we will not agree to any changes.

Lawmakers who want to participate in discussions about the report must sign up by July 22.

After this round of talks, the lower house will issue a final decision on preparing a bill for the amendments.

Inputs from representatives from the government’s three branches, and members of political parties and ethnic groups will also be considered when drafting the bill, lawmakers said.

Prior to winning the general elections of 2015 in a landslide victory, the NLD vowed to rid the constitution of its undemocratic features, especially those that guaranteed the military political power.

But once in power, the party backed off from pursuing the issue so as not to damage its delicate power-sharing arrangement with the armed forces.

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