Burma’s pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has conceded that she is unable to force through the constitutional changes that would allow her to run for the presidency, and has even gone so far as to acknowledge house Speaker Shwe Mann’s timetable for reform as “realistic”.
Speaking to reporters during a break in parliament on Wednesday, Suu Kyi said, “He [Shwe Mann] was talking about the process [of constitutional reform], and this is how it has to be. Suppose there is a decision to amend Article 436 – with regard to time and procedure, it has to follow this process.
“I know people have held a lot of hope in me becoming president in 2015, but in order to amend Article 59(f), Article 436 must be amended first. Therefore it is realistic to follow this procedure.”
Article 436 stipulates that any constitutional amendment requires the approval of 75 percent of parliament. Critics, which have included Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), say that the clause is undemocratic because it provides the military – which is appointed 25 percent of parliamentary seats – veto power on any proposed amendments.
Article 59(f) is the clause that bars Suu Kyi from running for the presidency or vice-presidency because her sons – and deceased husband – have foreign citizenship.
Posting Suu Kyi’s statement on its social media, the NLD cited its leader saying, “Regarding the military MPs’ strong stance against amending Article 436, it is clear to us that democratic standards must be practiced. We would like the military to adopt a more democratic attitude but we are not expressly seeking to find fault with them.
“When we say it is necessary to change the 2008 Constitution, we mean it must be amended to meet democratic standards,” she added. “The role provided for the military by the current Constitution is not in line with democratic standards.”
The opposition leader’s comments come shortly after her party spokesman Nyan Win admitted to news agency AFP that the NLD “cannot win” the battle to change the constitution.
“Calculate the ratio mathematically,” he is reported saying. “We cannot win [the fight to change key sections of the constitution].
On Tuesday, Burma’s parliamentary house speaker Shwe Mann told a press conference in Naypyidaw that any amendments to the 2008 Constitution will only be enacted after next year’s general elections.
Following the day’s debate in the bicameral parliament on constitutional reform, the house speaker said that a referendum will be held in May 2015 to gauge public opinion on any changes to the Constitution, but that moves to pass any amendments could only be approved through the new legislature which reconvenes in 2016. The elections are expected to be held in either October or November next year.
“The 2015 elections will be held in accordance with the laws stipulated under the 2008 Constitution and relating laws,” Shwe Mann told reporters. “If the referendum in May brings about motions to amend the Constitution, then those bills will be submitted at the next session of parliament convened after the elections.”
He added that controversial Articles 436 and 59(f) will be considered based on public opinion.
Khin Maung Swe, the chairman of the National Democratic Force, which recently tabled a proposal to amend the electoral process to a proportional representation system, said he never believed the government would accede to the calls for constitutional reform.
“U Shwe Mann previously promised that the constitutional amendments would be implemented six months ahead of the 2015 elections,” he said. “We never believed that. We could see that it would be impossible to amend the constitution to meet all political criteria within the time limit.”
Others responded to Tuesday’s announcement with a mixture of anger and frustration.
Supreme Court lawyer Ko Ni said, “I see that the ruling party has no wish to amend the Constitution and are making any excuse to delay it as much as they can.”
His sentiments were echoed by Mya Aye of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society. “I am very frustrated to hear this,” he said. “What we asked for were only the necessary amendments to the Constitution before 2015, and a process of reforming others later. This does not favour any one particular party but is in the interests of the country. Elections without constitutional reform will not guarantee the public their freedom of choice.”
Speaking to DVB, ethnic leaders – who are currently embroiled in ceasefire talks with the government – also expressed their dissatisfaction.
Col. Hkun Okker, a leading negotiator on behalf of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, said, “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said elections would not be free and fair without some degree of constitutional reform. As for us, we never accepted the 2008 Constitution and will still not accept it even after it is amended.
“U Shwe Mann’s decision to postpone amendments until after the 2015 elections is a clear signal that the proposal to bring about constitution reform from within parliament is a no-go.”
Saw Than Myint, co-founder of the multi-ethnic Federal Union Party and spokesperson for the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation, said, “Even after the 2015 elections, it will be nigh on impossible to amend the Constitution without cooperation from the military MPs who hold 25 percent of the seats. Whether it be in 2015 or 2020, how are we supposed to change the Constitution as long as the military holds 25 percent of seats in parliament?”