Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann has sent a letter to a parliamentary committee in charge of constitutional reform urging it to focus on amending chapter 12 of the charter, while he also suggested that the committee completes its work no later than six months before the 2015 elections.
Chapter 12 of Burma’s Constitution sets out the rules for making changes to the charter. Among the more controversial articles in the charter are those that deal with the military’s political role and an article that bans opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.
On Tuesday, Shwe Mann, who also chairs the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), sent a letter to the Constitutional Amendment Implementing Committee saying, “In the committee meetings, Chapter 12 Amendments of the Constitution should be first reviewed and get recommendations.”
He added, “[T]he committee must report their findings on the necessary amendments or enactment of legislation six months before the 2015 election.” Shwe Mann also asked the committee to consider amendments concerning political autonomy for ethnic regions through a federal union and the appointment of chief ministers in states and divisions through elections.
Chapter 12′s Article 436 states that constitutional reform can only take place with the support of more than 75 percent of the lawmakers—giving the military an effective veto over any amendments. Specific articles must also be put to a referendum, including Article 59 (f), which prevents National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Suu Kyi from becoming president as her two British-born sons are not Burmese citizens, and Articles 109/141/161(d), which reserve a quarter of all Parliament seats for serving military officers.
The current Constitution was drafted by the previous military regime and is widely considered to be undemocratic; it was rushed through during a flawed 2008 referendum.
On Tuesday, opposition lawmakers were cautiously positive about Shwe Mann’s letter, but remained concerned over whether or not the USDP-dominated committee would eventually propose significant amendments.
Win Htein, a NLD Lower House lawmaker, noted that the 29 USDP MPs in the 31-member committee might be less inclined to favor change than their chairman. “It is the committee members who make decision on the amendments, even though there are guidelines [in the letter] suggested by the Speaker Shwe Mann,” he said.
“It’s not sure that all of our [NLD] suggested amendments will be included in their final decisions… We cannot expect that,” he said, adding that the NLD would continue push for the amendments it desires regardless of what the committee decides.
“As you know, the NLD is campaigning both inside and outside of Parliament for constitutional amendments,” Win Htein said.
Ye Htun, a Lower House lawmaker from the Shan Nationalities Development Party, said he was “satisfied” with the constitutional amendments that Shwe Mann had suggested.
“It seems that the Constitution is to be amended before the upcoming elections, so that there can be a newly elected government with an amended Constitution,” he said.
Referring to the proposed review of the political control over Burma’s regional governments, which remain under strict control from Naypyidaw, Ye Htun said, “As an ethnic party representative, amending the states’ rights to autonomy and sharing authority on the management of natural resources would help build ethnic unity, genuine peace and stopping the decades-long civil wars.”
Both lawmakers were unable to say, however, whether the minimum time frame of six months would leave enough time for the implementation of the amendments before the 2015 elections.