US Ambassador Supports Myanmar Constitutional Reform, Calls Article 59F ‘Relic of the Past’
BURMA

US Ambassador Supports Constitutional Reform, Calls Article 59F ‘Relic of the Past’

United States, Aung San Suu Kyi, democracy, elections, reform, Thein Sein, Thura Shwe Mann, NLD

US ambassador to Burma, Derek Mitchell, speaks to Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Rangoon in March 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

RANGOON — As Burma’s ruling party faces growing pressure from the public and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to amend the Constitution ahead of the 2015 elections, the United States Ambassador has expressed support for changing the charter’s controversial Article 59 (f), which he called “a relic from the past.”

The article prevents National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Suu Kyi from becoming president, as it states that a president’s spouse or children cannot be citizens of a foreign country. Suu Kyi was married to British national Micheal Aris, who died in 1999, and she has two sons who are British subjects.

Derek Mitchell said in remarks that he could not understand how a democratic Burma could have a provision in its charter that prevents Suu Kyi from running for the presidency.

“[I]t seems curious to me that someone who is the leader of a major political party, chair of a major parliamentary committee, who has sacrificed herself for decades as a courageous patriot committed to the success and strength of the country, someone clearly very popular with the people, will be excluded from presidential contention,” he said.

“I can understand perhaps in 1947, even in 1974, there might be a constitutional provision that reflects fear of family connections to the outside world. But not in the 21st century, in a new, open democratic Burma that seeks to integrate itself to the world. This provision, this fear, seems a relic of the past,” Mitchell said.

He said the US did not want to see the Constitution changed because it favored any of Burma’s presidential candidates, adding, “We simply want to see a fair fight that reflects the will of the people.”

The 2008 charter is widely seen as undemocratic because it was drafted by the then ruling military junta and pushed through in a referendum that has been criticized as rigged.

In addition to blocking a Suu Kyi presidency, the Constitution also concentrates great political power in the hands of the military, which has permanent control over 25 percent of Parliament seats, while ethnic regions are under tight control of the central government.

Since becoming an MP in 2012, Suu Kyi has called for broad-ranging changes to the Constitution, but the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and Burma’s powerful military have dragged their feet on such discussions.

In recent months, however, the NLD leader has been increasingly vocal about the need for constitutional reform and at one point threatened to boycott the 2015 elections if amendments are not made.

This week, during a visit to Chin State, she again focused attention on the issue and called on Burma’s powerful military to back amendments. “We need to convince them [the military]. The situation of the Constitution is dividing the military and the people,” she told a crowd of 1,500 residents of Tedim town.

Last week in Rangoon, several dozen activists, including leading activists the 88’ Generation Students Group, gathered in front of the City Hall to protest and demand that Parliament amend Article 59(f) and scrap other oppressive laws.

In his remarks, Mitchell raised questions about those who oppose constitutional reform but praised USDP Chairman Shwe Mann, who has come out publicly in favor of amending provision 59 (f).

“He has said he would like a fair fight, in which the people will have a choice between parties and leaders, and the winner wins, and the loser becomes the loyal opposition,” the ambassador said. “That is a very honorable position, and very democratic. I salute him for this principled view. Again as an observer, I just wonder why others don’t view it that way.”

Last month, the USDP announced that the party was putting forth 57 amendments to the Constitution, including an amendment to Article 59 (f) that would allow Suu Kyi to become president as long as her two sons renounce their British citizenship and become Burmese citizens.

Suu Kyi reportedly said this amendment would make little difference and suggested that it is strange that she would have to ask her adult sons to change their nationality. “I know the proposed deletion of this requirement is not to benefit me, but I don’t know who will benefit from this,” she told Radio Free Asia.

In a televised speech to the country this month, President Thein Sein said changing the Constitution could promote national reconciliation, adding that he “would not want restrictions imposed on the right of any citizen to become the leader of the country.”

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee has been formed to review the Constitution and consider amendments, with political parties and members of the public submitting recommendations. Earlier last week, the committee said it had received 323,110 suggestions via 28,247 letters ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline for public feedback.

It is expected to submit its report during the next house session, which starts on Jan. 13.


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5 Responses to US Ambassador Supports Constitutional Reform, Calls Article 59F ‘Relic of the Past’

  1. Why only one chapter needs to be amended? From my point of view, almost 75% of the constitution needs changes. Don’t plan for somebody to become president whereby the rest of the idiots goes scott free with their misdeeds.

  2. Author wrote “Last month, the USDP announced that the party was putting forth 57 amendments to the Constitution, including an amendment to Article 59 (f) that would allow Suu Kyi to become president as long as her two sons renounce their British citizenship and become Burmese citizens.

    Suu Kyi reportedly said this amendment would make little difference and suggested that it is strange that she would have to ask her adult sons to change their nationality. “I know the proposed deletion of this requirement is not to benefit me, but I don’t know who will benefit from this,” she told Radio Free Asia.”

    If USDP, fox than shwe, his ex-army men and his cronies give guarantee to DASSK’s 2 sons’ future in Burma, her 2 sons should denounced their British citizenship for the sake of all Burmese people.
    In the aspect of the denouncing British citizenship, USDP, fox than shwe must provide all the facilities and rights (health, education, social warfare, employment and etc) to her 2 sons, like British citizen gets. Those facilities and rights should be built or implemented from their(fox, USDP, U pie and his cronies) all wealth in all Burma for all oversea Burmese who denounce their foriegn passport. Because notorious Ne win and fox than shwe are the main culprits to make the Burma, the world most poorer country.
    Taking national census is another tricks and traps to show off the freedom of restriction of movement of Burmese people’s basic right in the ease of forming house-hold registration in case of marriage, birth and change of residence.
    Previously, it is not easy to apply for any change of house hold registration for the security reason, even in case of marriage or birth in family.
    Ultimately, recording the house-hold registrations, including oversea Burmese people is for their security reason where about all Burmese people for their tracking, tracing and investigation if needed.

    DASSK is making a long difficult trips for demanding of 2008 nargic Constitution amendment.
    Ming Ko naing is making a protest for demanding of real freedom of expression, one part of the 2008 Nargic constitution. However, i do not know why it is not for him demanding the whole amendment of 2008 Nargic constitution, like DASSK does.
    USDP is offering the easy forming or amendment of house hold registration (family book) which is part of the freedom of movement for all Burmese in case of marriage or birth or change of residence. Previously all Burmese have no human basic right for themselves to allow to form or amend their own house hold registration (family book) in case of marriage or birth or change of residence for any reasons. Please, do not vote USDP in this offer.
    If USDP allow dual citizenship or green card, i am sure some will vote USDP.

    • “I(US ambassador) can understand perhaps in 1947, even in 1974, there might be a constitutional provision that reflects fear of family connections to the outside world. But not in the 21st century, in a new, open democratic Burma that seeks to integrate itself to the world. This provision, this fear, seems a relic of the past,” Mitchell said.”
      USDP is offering the easy forming or amendment of house hold registration ( family book) by taking population Census in whole Burma. USDP said and says, taking census is not a tricks and traps for all fearful ordinary Burmese people for tax purpose or conspiracy and it is special gift, particularly all ethnics and oversea Burmese.
      Believe or not is up to all now.
      However, “Be careful” that it is not offering the dual citizenship as DASSK says and warns there is no dual citizenship law in Burma.

      Paranoid Ne win and fox than shwe still do not like Burmese people with foreign connection although they, USDP, U pie and their children have a lot of connection from their corrupted and illegal wealth.

  3. We thank Mr Mitchell for spearheading America’s diplomatic effort in relentlessly engaging all parties from Burma.

    Wake up, my fellow countrymen! No country become prosperous without the help of that great country called the USA. We need to continue getting help from American leaders to solve our problems. Only American possesses will, morals, wisdom and power to do that. Germans did that, Japanese did that, the whole of Europe did that, Koreans did that, Thais did that, Lee Kuan Yew did that, Deng Xiaoping did that. Even communist Vietnamese (& mainland Chinese) did that just recently. We are late.

    And there are more, no document is more interesting than the American constitution, benefiting more & more human civilizations beyond the borders of the USA.

  4. Maung Lu Aye ( Law ) R.A.S.U. 1976

    There are a lot of Change Need in 2008 Nargic Constitution. Instead of Amending the Constitution, it should definitely Call for the Referendum to New Constitution . There are Sufficient Grounds , 2008 Charter was widely seen as Undemocratic because it was drafted by then, Ruling Military Junta & Pushed through a Referendum that has been criticized as rigged. Tremendously, Trouble Period in 2008 Nargic Typhoon, which the Death toll of the Poorest People at Irrawaddy Delta was More than 100,000 including countless of Livestocks , the Previous Regime Ignored People Sufferings & Pushed the Referendum . What a shameles , Merciless Regime that The Global Communities ever Known .
    And We don’t assume that The Charter’s Controversial Article 59 F ( Relic from the Past ) is Only Issue. What the U.S Embassador tried to avoid & Not mentioning Issue is 25% of Parliamentarians are Military Personnel , may be more than that . That’s mean Burma’s Govt is not really Democratic Govt or heading to Democracy . They are just Sugar-Coated Govt So Far .
    Eloquent , Flowery Words of Ex-Gen Thein Sein & USDP Members Words are very hard to believe. You cannot buy Response of Kindness , Trust easily from the Suffering People which you had badly Treated , Tortured ,Detained and Prisoned for Decades . Believe me .

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