RANGOON — The Constitutional Review Joint Committee in Burma’s Parliament has put forward proposed draft amendments to the 2008 military-written charter, with no changes to articles that currently bar Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency and guarantee the military a key role in politics.
However, the 109-member committee—with representatives from the opposition and ruling parties, as well as the military—has recommended changes to allow greater power sharing between the government and ethnic groups, according to a report published Friday.
The committee’s report recommended no change to Article 59F, which says a president may not have a spouse or children who are foreign nationals. Suu Kyi, who chairs the National League for Democracy (NLD), has two sons with British citizenship.
According to the committee’s proposed draft amendments, there would be no change to an article that reserves 25 percent of seats in Parliament for the military, or to an article that requires approval from more than 75 percent of lawmakers for constitutional amendments.
The committee also proposed to retain a chapter of the Constitution that grants immunity for members of the former regime who committed crimes while carrying out their duties.
However, it did recommend changes that would allow greater power sharing between the government and ethnic groups, as both sides negotiate ceasefires and peace agreements. Ethnic groups have been fighting for decades for the right to elect their own state governments and to have more control over natural resources.
But the committee proposed no amendment to a chapter which says all armed forces in the country should fall under the command of the government’s defense services. This chapter is controversial because ethnic groups have called for a “federal army,” with a decentralized command structure and battalions in certain regions comprised largely of soldiers from the dominant resident ethnic group.
The Constitution was written by the former military regime and passed in a referendum in 2008 that was widely seen as a sham. Since President Thein Sein’s government came to power in 2011, opposition parties and ethnic groups have campaigned for sweeping changes to the document, while others have called for an opportunity to completely rewrite it.
The Constitutional Review Joint Committee formed in July and was tasked with taking input from a wide range of stakeholders on whether—and in what ways—to amend the Constitution.
The report Friday said over 100,000 people did not support changes to the above mentioned articles and chapters. By comparison, it said only 592 people wanted to amend the article that makes Suu Kyi ineligible for the presidency.
These figures stand in contrast to results of opinion polls conducted by Suu Kyi’s NLD party last year, which showed that tens of thousands of supporters supported amendments or a complete rewrite of the Constitution.
“It is a little strange to see that 106,102 people did not want to change articles, including 59F,” Pe Than, a lawmaker from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), told The Irrawaddy. He is not a member of the committee.
“The army and the USDP did not want to hurt the Constitution,” he said, referring to the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. “I believe this is why 106,102 people did not want to change the main points in the Constitution.”
“If it is possible, we want to change the section so Aung San Suu Kyi can be president, because it would be good to have a democratic system,” he added.
He said lawmakers would continue to discuss the draft amendments in Parliament.
Regarding proposed changes to Chapters 1-5 that would allow greater power sharing with ethnic groups, he said he believed the government’s ceasefire negotiations played a role.
“It seems they made it a priority to have peace with ethnic groups by doing this,” he said.
Win Tin, a veteran journalist and co-founder of the NLD, said he was not caught off guard by the parliamentary committee’s proposals.
“I was not surprised that they did not amend any of the points we wanted to amend. I anticipated this already, and that’s why I was against my party’s stance to amend the Constitution,” he said. He had called instead to scrap the charter and complete rewrite it. “I was the only person who was against amendments because I knew they would only amend unimportant points.”
Khun Okkar, joint secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a major alliance of ethnic armed groups, said he was disappointed that the committee did not recommend changes to allow for a federal army.
“It is unacceptable for our ethnic armies to have to stay under their control. This is why we did not agree to the 2008 Constitution,” he said.
“The government is trying to get us to sign a nationwide ceasefire,” he added. “If they do not change their stance, it will be hard to have peace.”