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Parliament to review Burma’s controversial constitution

Burma’s parliament took a historic step on Friday by approving a motion to consider amending the controversial military-backed constitution, which precludes opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.

The review was reportedly proposed by lower house representatives Aye Myint and Thein Zaw, both former generals and senior members of the ruling, military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and supported by a number of military delegates. A parliamentary committee is due to be formed to consider the changes.

The 2008 legislation was drafted by the former military junta and formally approved by a rigged referendum, which was held shortly after Burma was struck by the devastating Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 130,000 people.

The constitution contains several contentious provisions; including preserving 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military and prohibits anyone with “foreign” familial connections from leading the country.

The latter provision was specifically drafted to exclude Suu Kyi, whose late husband was British and has two sons with foreign citizenship, from the presidency.

“They seem to have realised that it’s essential to amend the present constitution for the country to build genuine democracy,” Ohn Kyaing from the National League for Democracy (NLD) told Reuters.

Reformist president Thein Sein has been credited for introducing a sweeping set of democratic reforms in the former pariah state, since taking office in March 2011.

But the constitution has been an ongoing source of controversy and has been criticised by democracy activists and ethnic minority groups.

A spokesperson for the National Democratic Force (NDF), which is an NLD splinter group, told DVB that constitutional change had always been one of their key priorities.

“We’ve been looking at this issue since back in our NLD days,” said Khin Maung Swe. “To amend the constitution is one of the NDF’s primary objectives.”

The NDF split from the NLD in 2010 after a dispute over whether to participate in the contested general elections, which was boycotted by Suu Kyi’s party.

“We entered the [2010] elections due to a belief that it would be a more effective effort to change the constitution from within the parliament and now we’ve been proven right,” added Khin Maung Swe.

Suu Kyi has also repeatedly called for the law to be amended and affirmed her commitment to lead the country.

“A constitution should be drawn based on principles of right and wrong and not based on individual gain. I’ve been saying this for a long time,” she told reporters in January.

Suu Kyi was famously denied power by the military in the annulled 1990 elections, which her party won by a landslide, on the dubious premise that Burma lacked a constitution. Analysts say the 2008 legislation was designed to secure the military’s political and economic interests before the country could consider a democratic transition.

-Aye Nai contributed reporting.


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