The National League for Democracy (NLD) issued a public statement on Monday, 2 December, reiterating calls for a quadripartite conference on constitutional reform, calling the government’s refusal to meet “unacceptable” and accusing the government of intentionally and indefinitely putting off discussions.
“Postponing these discussions will not benefit the country’s citizens and will only delay reform,” read the statement, which further claims that the government’s unwillingness to meet with the opposition reveals reluctance for real reform.
Last week the NLD, Burma’s leading opposition party, requested a conference between the president, the parliament, the military and NLD party leaders aimed at preparing for amendments to Burma’s heavily criticised 2008 Constitution.
Presidential spokesman Ye Htut promptly responded that such discussions should be “all-inclusive” and should not give preference to the NLD. He also said that discussions should be held off until after a parliamentary Joint-Committee for Reviewing the Constitution has released its findings, expected by 31 December.
While this announcement does not preclude the meeting altogether, it does postpone discussions until January 2014 at the earliest, which NLD representatives argue is an unnecessary delay.
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Sunday called the government’s refusal for quadripartite constitutional discussions “inconsistent” with reform, during an address to the Burmese community in Melbourne, Australia.
“I have a duty to point out inconsistencies within the government,” Suu Kyi said.
In response to the government’s position that the NLD should not be granted the special privilege of a quadripartite meeting, Suu Kyi said that, “We are generally accepted as the main opposition party. Democratic countries allow space and support for opposition parties. Our demand is not unreasonable. This is standard democratic procedure.”
Suu Kyi related that in 1988 and 1989, just before being placed under house arrest, she made several requests to meet with Snr-Gen Saw Maung, and was similarly denied the opportunity for a meeting, suggesting that the government is still systematically preventing discourse.
NLD party members have been conducting polls in several parts of the country, including all major cities and some townships in ethnic states, to gauge public opinion on constitutional reform. NLD representatives claim that the vast majority of those surveyed would prefer amendment to a complete rewrite, and that opinion seems unanimous that Burma’s highly controversial constitution must be changed.
While the survey has already been held in several townships across Burma, polling was said to be disrupted in Naypyidaw and several villages in Mon State.
The NLD was initially denied a permit to conduct polls in the capital city of Naypyidaw, after a similar event in Rangoon drew nearly 20,000 people who were overwhelmingly supportive of constitutional amendment.
Among the major criticisms of Burma’s 2008 constitution is a provision that guarantees 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military, and a severely prohibitive amendment process that requires 75 percent parliamentary approval for all changes.
Burma’s current constitution also contains a clause that would prevent Suu Kyi from seeking the presidency in the upcoming 2015 elections, by virtue of having been married to a foreigner.