Wednesday, September 20, 2017

More than 100 MPs set to debate constitution report

Debate over the controversial sections of the 2008 constitution that bar Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency and give the military a veto over reform looks set to intensify, after the committee set up to review the constitution reported to hluttaw last week.

Thura U Shwe Mann and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Photos: AFP, (Boothee/The Myanmar Times)Thura U Shwe Mann and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Photos: AFP, (Boothee/The Myanmar Times)

Parliament must now act on the report of the 31-member committee, which is essentially a composition of proposed amendments submitted by various stakeholders, including the military, the National League for Democracy and the Union Solidarity and Development Party.

A member of committee, who asked not to be named, said 100 MPs had registered to discuss the report, which was submitted on October 22.

Parliament will decide on each section through a vote and the committee will write a bill based on the results. This will then be submitted and voted on again, he said.

The two thorniest problems relate to sections 59 and 436, which govern eligibility for the presidency and changing the constitution. Amendments require a 75 percent majority vote in parliament, in which the military is guaranteed 25pc of the seats and therefore veto powers.

The National League for Democracy and its leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, have called for the abolition of section 59, which states that no citizen married to a foreigner or with children who are foreign citizens – as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s are – is eligible to be president.

The military has brushed off NLD objections that no such restriction appeared in the 1947 and 1974 constitutions, as well as NLD proposals to lower the barrier for constitutional change to two-thirds, or even 50pc. The ruling USDP has expressed no specific view on this provision, stating only that it could be considered at an appropriate time.

One possible new cause for controversy lies in a military proposal in the committee’s report to enhance the role of the National Security and Defence Council. NLD MP U Min Thu described this as “very difficult to understand”.

The NDSC comprises 11 members led by the president, and two vice presidents, the speakers of parliament, the commander-in-chief of the defence services and his deputy, and the ministers of defence, home affairs and border affairs.

Its sweeping powers include advising the president on declaring a state of emergency, support for a presidential amnesty, advising on questions of defence, security, the rule of law and peace issues, and the suspension of parliament under certain conditions.

Meanwhile, the military is also proposing that the president should have the power to abolish both houses of parliament in the event of a “loss of checks and balances” among parliament, the president and the judiciary, and to call an election within 90 days.

On October 22, the day the committee submitted its report, military MP Brigadier General Tint San unveiled a separate report with suggestions for the preservation of the checks and balances among the three branches. The first report to be submitted by a military representative since the parliament was set up in early 2011, it criticises “weaknesses and delay” in the executive, and implies that the legislature fails to understand the nature of government when enacting laws. The report also warns against “rivalry”, while urging “positive competition” among the branches.

USDP representative U Hla Swe, a former military officer, said this smacked of dictatorship, while another USDP member, U Khin Maung Yi, said, “We don’t agree with the military’s suggestion, but the report has not yet been approved. These are just suggestions, which we will have to discuss again in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.”

U Saw Taw Palae of the Kayin People’s Party said they were satisfied with the suggestions concerning ethnic peoples, especially on sharing power, “though we didn’t get 100pc of what we asked for”.

Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann said the report would be approved during this session, perhaps by November 21, and urged MPs to discuss it in a spirit of goodwill. “If so, I believe there will be good results for the state and the people,” he said.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters after the hluttaw session, “We are now analysing the report, and then our members will take part in the discussions in parliament.”