Thursday, September 21, 2017

Nationalists warn NLD on constitution

During a rally in Yangon yesterday, nationalists fired a warning shot at the National League for Democracy: force constitutional change through parliament and incur the wrath of the hardliners.

Ko Win Ko Ko Latt of the Myanmar National Network speaks at yesterday’s rally in Yangon. Photo: Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar TimesKo Win Ko Ko Latt of the Myanmar National Network speaks at yesterday’s rally in Yangon. Photo: Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar Times

Monks, politicians and nationalist supporters gathered at Bo Sein Mann Ground in Bahan township to drum up support for preserving the presidential eligibility criteria in the constitution.

While the group is divided over backing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD-led government, they are unified in standing against constitutional revision or suspension.

Leading members within the NLD had suggested the party would seek to change or suspend article 59(f), which bars Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from holding the top office as her sons are British passport holders.

The nationalists said they will not abide by a movement to eliminate or to “suspend” the controversial clause, citing the need to preserve the country’s nascent democracy and avoid triggering a coup.

“If they forcibly push parliament to suspend or amend the constitution, particularly the nationalist protection enshrined in 59(f), they would face protests and problems with the military,” said Ko Win Ko Ko Latt, a lawyer and chair of the Myanmar National Network who ran as an independent in last year’s election and lost.

“If constitutional reform is pressed, it would destabilise the country’s democracy. The military government would surely try to mount a comeback,” he said.

He added that the nationalists also want to see Myanmar proceed on the path toward democracy, and do not want to regress to an administration controlled by a military junta.

Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has pledged to uphold the election results and transition process, and promised there would be no coup. However, he has also stressed that it is the military’s responsibility to protect the junta-drafted constitution.

Rumours had spread in recent weeks that the NLD would seek to amend section 59(f) of the constitution through a simple majority vote in parliament. A senior NLD official told The Myanmar Times last week that the party was backing away from that strategy – despite popular support for Daw Aung Suu Kyi to assume the presidency – in order to avoid a confrontation with the military.

In a speech in Shan State earlier this month, Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing said the military would consider amendments to the constitution submitted according to proper legal procedure. Nationalists at yesterday’s rally lobbied along a similar vein.

“When we amend any section or provision of the constitution, we should take care to understand the repercussions and question whether temporary or permanent revisions are in the interests of the public, or benefit just one person,” said U Aye Pai, a lawyer and member of Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha. “We must prioritise the policy rather than a central figure when we consider amendments.”

Some analysts have suggested however that the specificity of 59(f) indicates it was written explicitly with one goal in mind: to bar the NLD leader from holding the office of the president.

U Aye Pai urged demonstrators to look to Thailand which he said has faced threats to its national integrity, and to consider the lengths Myanmar kings went to preserve the country from foreign invaders. He also suggested those at the rally be mindful of the Arakan nation, now Rakhine State, where he said the race is disappearing due to functioning as the western door for foreigners to enter Myanmar – presumably an allusion to Rohingya Muslims who the government officially refers to as Bengalis from Bangladesh.

The NLD has long campaigned for revising the constitution which guarantees unelected military representatives a 25 percent bloc of the state, region and Union parliaments. The NLD’s newly formed constitutional committee has vowed to change over 100 provisions of the constitution. However, amending the constitution requires the backing of 75 percent of parliament.

Speakers at yesterday’s rally said that while the country is taking a long trip to climb the ladder of democracy step-by-step, protecting the nation and the identity of its races and religions must be a priority.

“Now the hluttaw is in danger because it lacks strong checks and balances as there are not enough MPs from different parties,” said former MP Daw Khin Wine Kyi. The NLD won over 80 percent of the seats up for election in the November 8 poll.

Another nationalist supporter attending yesterday’s rally, U Nay Myo Wai, reiterated the idea that preserving the constitution – which was instituted via a controversial referendum shortly after Cyclone Nargis devastated much of the country – should be equated with standing for democracy.

“On constitutional amendment, the military and the nationalists agree,” he said. “We must uphold the principle of liberal democracy and human rights by protecting