Ninety percent of Karen locals want constitution changed: survey

Ninety percent of Karen locals want constitution changed: survey

Over 90 percent of locals in the Karen state capital Hpa-an want Burma’s military-backed 2008 constitution to be amended, according to a new survey conducted by the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Nan Khine Htwe Myint, Karen state chairperson of NLD, told DVB that of 400 people interviewed across three townships in Hpa-an district on 6 October, the vast majority wanted to see the military’s role in politics significantly reduced.

She said respondents specifically wanted to change clauses that guarantee the armed forces 25 percent of seats in parliament and that preclude opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency on the basis of her foreign familial connections.

But Nan Khine Htwe Myint added that most people believed it would be more realistic to amend rather than completely rewrite the document.

“About 95 percent of them, including members from other political parties, see that the constitution should be amended,” said Nan Khin Htwe Myint.

The survey was conducted in Hpa-an, Hlaingbwe and Thandaung towns as part of the opposition party’s plans to gauge public opinion on constitutional change.

The military-drafted document precludes Suu Kyi from assuming the presidency because she has two sons with foreign citizenship and was married to a British man, the late scholar Michael Aris.

Suu Kyi has repeatedly slammed the legislation as “undemocratic” and insisted that it must be amended ahead of the 2015 general elections. However, she has yet to clarify whether the NLD will back a complete overhaul of the document or focus on specific sections.

Meanwhile, the United Nationalities Federal Council, an umbrella group made up of major ethnic armed groups, has already outlined plans to completely re-write the constitution in the coming months. Ethnic rebels, who have fought the government for decades, insist the legislation must guarantee greater ethnic autonomy and rights under a genuine federal framework.

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The controversial 2008 document was put to a public referendum shortly after Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma in 2008, causing up to 140,000 deaths. The referendum was heavily criticised by observers, although the government claimed that 92 percent of the population had voted in its favour.

The NLD survey is being carried out in tandem with a state-backed effort to review the constitution. Earlier this month, the government formed a committee to review proposals for constitutional amendments, setting a 15 November deadline to receive feedback and recommendations.

Analysts say President Thein Sein’s government, which has been credited for introducing radical reforms in the former military dictatorship, is jostling for influence in the run-up to the 2015 elections.

According to the NLD, survey respondents included influential local figures, teachers, pensioners, and members and parliament representatives from other political parties. Nan Khin Htwe Myint added that the party is looking to conduct similar surveys in other Karen state districts before 15 November.

Meanwhile, Shan state’s NLD chairperson Khin Moe Moe said the party is also looking to conduct surveys in 13 districts in northern, southern and eastern Shan state, starting with Muse district on 10 October.

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