Khin Ma Ma Myo is the founder and executive director of the Rangoon-based Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security Studies (MIPSS), which was set up this year. She studied politics, economics and governance at universities in Japan and the United Kingdom.
Myanmar Now reporter Phyo Thiha Cho spoke with Khin Ma Ma Myo about Burma’s political situation ahead of the election, the prospects of reforms to the 2008 Constitution, and the military’s continued control over the ministries of defence, home affairs and border security.
Question: Why do you think the public discussion of constitutional amendments has gone quiet?
Answer: Achieving constitutional amendments or resolving the peace process will take a long time. Now, political parties are conducting campaigns with a focus on the public’s immediate needs, such as poverty reduction, education and health, rather than long-term, structural reforms in politics, economy and society.
Q: Do you mean political parties are focusing on fundamental needs, instead of addressing the public’s political expectations, such as greater democracy?
A: I assume some political parties are changing their approach to prioritise improvement of peoples’ livelihoods. After that, they will push for political reforms. It should not be read as if they are neglecting the political expectations of the people. It’s just that their first priority now seems to be the development agenda.
Q: The Union Election Commission recently said they can guarantee only 30 percent accuracy in the voter registration list because the public is not taking enough initiative to correct it. Do you think public interest in politics is low?
A: Many of our people were involved in political movements in the past. However, many of them now have little hope in politics. Political groups that emerged from the public were defeated by the former military regime….
For example, many people took part in the 1988 uprising and cast their votes in the 1990 general elections, but then the military government did not hand over power to the winning party. People protested against it and some ordinary people became political activists. The government then oppressed these activists. People tried to call for the release of political prisoners. Although some of them were freed, they still could not eliminate military dictatorship as it is deeply rooted in the government administration after decades (of army rule).
There is also a lack of unity and harmony among political activists, there are different political ideologies. As a result, they deviated from their common goals and could not present a clear political reform scenario to the public.
These are some of the reasons for the decline of public trust in politics. Politicians could improve this dire situation by designing a clear roadmap for change and restore this trust.
In some cases, the impacts of politics were more severe on ordinary people than on politicians. For example, while the latter were holding peace talks, ordinary people are still fleeing from ongoing armed conflicts. It is not enough for politicians to only talk about the importance of peace.
Q: Do you think there could be an opportunity to amend the Constitution if the opposition wins a major victory during the upcoming elections?
A: I think that (in case of a victory) the formation of a new government by the opposition could not influence constitutional amendment.
An issue to be considered is whether the government can influence all 75 percent of (elected) parliamentarians. This is impossible. And even if it is possible, constitutional amendments would need at least one vote from the remaining 25 percent of military officers in parliament. (Editor’s note: Constitutional reform requires more than 75 percent of parliamentary support. Reform attempts were blocked several months ago by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and army MPs.)
In addition, it must also be considered whether any new government would get full administrative powers. We can categorise the ministries into three groups: security, finance and social services. Under the 2008 Constitution … the ministries concerned with security are not under the management of the government, but directly under the military.
Q: Which ministries are concerned with security?
A: The ministries of defence, border affairs and home affairs, they are the most powerful ministries in the country. The Constitution does not allow the government to manage these ministries directly.
Also, the government administrative sector for the whole country is under the management of General Administration Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs (which is headed by an army general).
This interview was republished with permission from Myanmar Now.