Myan­mar holds rare rally to call for con­sti­tu­tion re­form

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS -

"The cur­rent con­sti­tu­tion is for the junta to main­tain power, and not al­low state coun­sel­lor (Aung San Suu Kyi) to be pres­i­dent," said Thein Myint Tun.

Hun­dreds gath­ered 27 Fe­bru­ary in down­town Yan­gon for a rally urg­ing re­form of Myan­mar's con­tro­ver­sial con­sti­tu­tion gift­ing the army sweep­ing powers, a move Aung San Suu Kyi's civil­ian gov­ern­ment will dis­cuss ahead of 2020 elec­tions.

The event fol­lows the for­ma­tion of a com­mit­tee last week to dis­cuss amend­ing the mil­i­tary-scripted con­sti­tu­tion, an un­prece­dented move as de­bates over it are highly sen­si­tive.

Au­thored by the junta in 2008, the char­ter al­lows the mil­i­tary control over se­cu­rity min­istries, and gifts them with a quar­ter of par­lia­men­tary seats -- ef­fec­tively al­low­ing them to veto any con­sti­tu­tional change pro­posed. The com­mit­tee's for­ma­tion -voted in by a par­lia­ment dom­i­nated by Suu Kyi's Na­tional League for Democ­racy party (NLD) -- pits her in open op­po­si­tion against the pow­er­ful army, with which she has been in an un­easy power-shar­ing agree­ment since the 2015 elec­tions.

Wed­nes­day's rally, fea­tur­ing a band and speeches from pro-re­form ac­tivists, drew hun­dreds to the iconic Sule Pagoda sport­ing red head­bands -- NLD's sig­na­ture colours -- and T-shirts say­ing "#WeWan­tChanges".

"We can­not ac­cept the con­sti­tu­tion as it was not writ­ten by the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple," Mya Aye, a prom­i­nent pro-democ­racy leader, told the crowd.

The in­tent of the char­ter was clear to at­ten­dants, as it also bans anyone mar­ried to a for­eigner from be­com­ing pres­i­dent -- a clause an­a­lysts be­lieve was aimed at Suu Kyi, whose late hus­band was Bri­tish.

"The cur­rent con­sti­tu­tion is for the junta to main­tain power, and not al­low state coun­sel­lor (Aung San Suu Kyi) to be pres­i­dent," said Thein Myint Tun, 58.

How­ever, he feared "it is too late" for the document to be changed with only a year un­til the next elec­tion.

Than Than Win, 61, called it a "one-sided draft for the pro­tec­tion of the gen­er­als," adding she was "very wor­ried" about how the mil­i­tary would re­act.

Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials over the week­end is­sued a sharp re­buke in a rare press con­fer­ence af­ter the com­mit­tee was formed, say­ing they would op­pose any changes to the "essence of the con­sti­tu­tion".

Aca­demic Melissa Crouch told AFP this "core essence" was al­ways meant to in­clude the mil­i­tary play­ing "a lead­ing role" as it con­tin­ues to fight eth­nic armed groups in bor­der re­gions.

"They have made very clear that un­til the eth­nic armed or­gan­i­sa­tions are no longer ac­tive, the mil­i­tary still sees it as a ne­ces­sity to be in­volved," said the as­so­ci­ate law pro­fes­sor from Univer­sity of New South Wales, an ex­pert on the Myan­mar con­sti­tu­tion.

She added the NLD-ma­jor­ity com­mit­tee should make the de­lib­er­a­tion process "more trans­par­ent" and al­low for pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion. Rally at­ten­dant Myint Soe agreed.

"This com­mit­tee is not for NLD, not for the gov­ern­ment, and not for the MPs in par­lia­ment, but for all the peo­ple of Myan­mar," the 46-year-old told AFP.

Rally par­tic­i­pants call for change to the con­sti­tu­tion. Photo: EPA

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