Burma: Constitutional dilemma – revision or drawing a new charter?By Zin Linn Aug 23, 2013 7:03PM UTC
President Thein Sein’s government has declared itself a reformist administration since it took power in March 2011. At present, it has to meet a confrontational challenge so as to show its proper practice regarding constitutional change, which has been called for by various oppositions.
As demands for constitutional amendment increased, the Union Parliament of Burma accepted the forming of a 109-member Joint Committee to Review the 2008 Constitution on 25 July with the purpose of examining possible changes. The committee was formed with members of parliament, members of political parties, military MPs and individuals.
In contrast, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) unanimously rejected the military-sponsored 2008 constitution, after discussing it at a three-day Ethnic Conference (from 29 to 31 July) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. A total of 122 delegates presented at the conference on behalf of the UNFC-member organizations, 18 resistance organizations, the United Nationality Alliance, four political parties of ethnic nationalities, academics and activist individuals.
An ethnic criticism said that a nationwide ceasefire agreement without adequate guarantees of political dialogue and monitoring mechanisms is unacceptable. There is a constant demand from the country’s ethnic groups to enjoy equal political, social and economic rights. The Constitution must guarantee the rights of self-determination and of equal representation for every ethnic group in the Parliament.
On 21 August, Lt-Gen Yawdserk, the leader of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), said Tuesday he agreed with the resolutions passed by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)-led conference late last month, according to Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.).
“They stand for what the people really desire,” Yawdserk told SHAN. “My only criticism is that it is too early to issue such calls, since the most urgent need for the country today is peace and reconciliation.”
An important resolution made by the UNFC during the Ethnic Conference for Peace and Reconciliation was the total rejection of the 2008 constitution drawn by the previous military regime. The Ethnic Conference also made a decision to draft a new federal constitution before the end of the year.
Some observers have criticized the decision as a war cry for a return to hostilities and confrontation.
“Nobody except for a few likes the 2008 constitution,” Yawdserk commented. “But for the sake of peace and reconciliation, what we can do now is its amendment. Not all of it can be amended at present either. So we need to consider what should be amended first.”
Earlier, he had told SHAN that the first step in the national reconciliation process should include: Full autonomy for the states, election of the state chiefs, and the transformation of the Burma Army (Tatmadaw) into a federal union armed forces. “The country can never become federal until and unless the armed forces become federal first,” Yawdserk said.
Burma’s current Constitution, approved in a May 2008 referendum, is inundated with misleading principles. It says the country must be united under one military command. To bring the ethnic groups in line with this term, the previous military regime has ordered all armed rebel groups to become part of Burma’s border guard force, but failed afterward.
There is a constant demand from Burma’s ethnic groups to enjoy equal political, social and economic rights. The Constitution must guarantee the rights of self-determination and of equal representation for every ethnic group in the Parliament. It is also required to include provisions against racial prejudice.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has already declared her willingness to serve as her country’s president and her party’s intention to amend the undemocratic clauses in the constitution to allow her to do so, according to the Associated Press. Suu Kyi said it is her duty as leader of the NLD to be willing to take the executive office if that is what the people want. She said a clause in the constitution effectively barring her from the job is one of several her party seeks to change.
During a visit to India, Suu Kyi addressed an audience in Delhi and said that the general election to be held in 2015 will not be fair, even though it is free, lacking compulsory amendments of the constitution.
Aung San Suu Kyi said that all parties in Burma, not just parliament, should make efforts to amend the country’s constitution, warning that the current charter cannot ensure credible elections in 2015, according to Radio Free Asia (Burmese Service). She also urged Burmese people inside and outside of the country to endeavor to bring amendments to the constitution.
So far, no one knows whether the incumbent regime has genuine intentions to provide autonomy toward ethnic minorities with the aim of making national reconciliation. No opinion of the ethnic representatives was taken into account during the national convention (1993 — 2007), in which the principles of the 2008 constitution were laid down.
The previous junta took 14 years to draft the existing constitution, which was boycotted by opposition parties, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and other ethnic democratic parties who gained a landslide victory in the 1990 elections.