Changes to Constitution must be made in time for 2015 elections: Shwe Mann

Changes to Constitution must be made in time for 2015 elections: Shwe Mann

Burma’s parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann has instructed the Chairman of the Committee for Implementation of the Amendment of the Constitution to explore the process by which amendments can be made.

Chapter 12, which deals with amending the Constitution, is to come under the scrutiny of the committee, which is charged with implementing recommendations made by the Joint Committee for Reviewing the Constitution (JCRC).

The chapter stipulates that 75 percent of MPs across both houses must vote in favour of any amendment. However for certain constitutional clauses, such as 59(f), which prevents Aung San Suu Kyi from being elected president, the added control of a referendum is required, a referendum in which 50 percent of all eligible voters must approve a change.

Article 436, found in Chapter 12, has long been slated as a direct attempt to preserve the non-democratic nature of the 2008 Constitution. It is that article which enshrines the 75 percent consensus rule — a rule that effectively blocks change without military approval — as 25 percent of parliamentary seats are reserved for the military.

In a letter to the implementation committee’s Chairman, Shwe Mann insisted that any constitutional change must be legislated at least six months ahead of the 2015 general election.

In his letter, Shwe Mann instructed: “Firstly, study, review and make suggestions on amending the clauses in the Constitution’s Chapter-12; amend the Constitution to lighten the burden on the public; and promote the role of the Union Parliament in finding solutions and assist the committee’s work in amending the Constitution.”

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Speaking to DVB on Tuesday, Ko Ni, a lawyer representing the National League for Democracy (NLD), said he believes that the “burden” that should be lightened in this context is the logistical work of organising a nationwide referendum for any major constitutional change.

“Each time a referendum is held for a cause deemed significant, it basically needs everyone eligible to go to the polling station because the article specifically states that it requires a ‘nation-wide referendum with the votes of more than half of those who are eligible to vote’,” Ko Ni said. “It implies that if they don’t come to vote, and then it will be same as voting ‘No’.

Shwe Mann’s instruction comes after the NLD and 88 Generation activists met to announce they would work together to try to alter Chapter 12.

However the 2015 deadline for proposed change does not come quickly enough for Ko Ni and the NLD.

“I appreciate the call to specify a timeframe for the reforms, but why not say earlier, in 2014, instead of just six months ahead of the elections,” Ko Ni began.

“If someone is ill, it is best to give them treatment as soon as possible, otherwise it will prolong their suffering and make recovery more unlikely.

“Our country has been under military dictatorship. Now we have a theoretically ‘democratic’ constitution that centralises power to the military commander-in-chief. What we have is in fact an authoritarian constitution and there is no way we can establish a democratic union with it. The sooner we amend the constitution, the sooner we can reach the democracy that we long for.”

This article was edited on 19 February 2014 to correct the following: Shwe Mann addressed his letter to the Chairman of the Committee for Implementation of the Amendment of the Constitution, not, as originally reported, to the Chairman of the JCRC.

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