Myanmar: constitutional change on the agenda?


The party of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi has instructed its lawmakers not to leave the capital, rank-and-file members said, fueling speculation of a legal bid to sidestep a clause in the constitution barring the democracy champion from the presidency, Reuters reports:

Eight new lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD) said the party’s top governing body, the 15-strong Central Executive Committee (CEC), had told them to stay in Naypyitaw, where the NLD-dominated parliament began its five-year term this week….

The directive has intensified speculation among lawmakers that the party could table legislation to suspend the provision that prevents Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi from becoming president despite her thumping win in a historic election in November.

“The NLD victory is just one step in Myanmar’s democratic process, not a major turning point,” said Yan Myo Thein, a veteran analyst and former political prisoner.

“The honeymoon period will be brief,” U Aung Zaw, an influential journalist who returned to Myanmar in 2012 after 24 years in exile, wrote on Monday on the website of The Irrawaddy [a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy]. “All the hard work lies ahead.”

Still, he called the opening of Parliament “a momentous day for Burma,” which was the country’s official name until 1989 and is still used by many in Myanmar, The New York Times adds:

The lower house of the new Parliament elected U Win Myint, a lawyer from Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party and a former political prisoner, as its new speaker. But in a sign of conciliation, lawmakers picked as deputy speaker U Ti Khun Myat, a member of the Kachin ethnic minority and a representative of the military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is now the party in opposition.

President Thein Sein, a former general who leads that party, gave a speech on Friday promoting the country’s “democratic transformation.” As the prime minister from 2007 to 2011, Mr. Thein Sein helped to establish a military-led civilian government and to pave the way for the end of the military junta’s monopoly on power, which it had held since a 1962 coup. ….The military, which still controls three important ministries under the new Constitution, remains a key force in the country.

In an email, Mr. Aung Zaw, the journalist, predicted that the National League for Democracy, despite its overwhelming victory last fall, would move carefully in forming a new government, which will take office in April.

“This is a new political beginning in Burma,” he wrote. “There is definitely renewed hope among people.”

The NLD also faces the world’s longest running insurgency by Myanmar’s ethnic minorities with tens of thousands still under arms and deeply distrustful of the central government and a military that will continue to control the country’s civil administration, three key ministries, 25 percent of the seats in Parliament and economic holdings amassed during its half-century in power, AP adds:

Adding to its woes, Myanmar falls among the world’s poorest countries with abysmal education and health systems and is burdened with pervasive corruption. It ranks 147 among 168 countries on Transparency International’s latest global corruption index…..

The team to tackle such a spectrum of problems is currently being shaped under tight wraps in this surreal, military-built capital hacked out of the jungle. Suu Kyi recently announced that only she among her party members could speak to the press, but not before her spokesman Nyan Win said the team-building was proving difficult.

“It’s going to be tough for anybody to run that place. The expectations are likely to be too great for her to succeed in the way people want,” says David Steinberg, an American scholar who has tracked Myanmar since the 1950s.

Richard Horsey, an analyst based in Yangon and a former United Nations official, said the military’s conciliatory attitude reflected an economic choice. “Democracy has not been the driving force of this transition,” he said. “It’s about liberalization and opening up Myanmar to the global economy, and this is why it will continue.”

Observers have also criticized the continuing repression and political exclusion of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority (see above).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email