“I am not happy about it, I want the Constitution to be changed and Aung San Suu Kyi to become president. But I do not think they will change it before the elections.”
Zaw’s mood reflects how Yangonites took yesterday’s vote in the Burmese parliament that failed to remove the army’s veto over constitutional change: with a mixture of disappointment and stoicism. The latter, no doubt, stems from the fact that nearly everyone knew parliament would not amend the Constitution before this autumn’s elections – and plenty believe it won’t after the electoral contest, either.
“Most people want to change the Constitution, but I think for this year it will not be modified,” argued one middle aged man.
The vote cast on Thursday, June 25, concerned six proposed amendments to the current constitutional text. The debate, however, focused on two key norms. One is a section 59 (f) which maintains that anyone who is married to a foreigner or has foreign offspring cannot run for either president or vice-president. This piece of legislation effectively prevents Aung San Suu Kyi, whose children are British, from getting the top spot in any electoral competition.
The other norm under fire is clause 436, which establishes that the Constitution can be amended only with a majority of 75 percent of votes. According to the 2008 Constitution, the armed forces are automatically allotted 25 percent of the seats in Parliament, which ensures they de facto have a veto over any reform – and yesterday’s vote confirmed that they do not intend to give it up anytime soon.
Mon Mon Myat, the executive director of the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival which was held last week in Yangon, said she is not surprised at the results.
“You need 75 percent of the votes to change the text. Some people had hoped that military MPs who want reform would vote in favor of changes, but they were dreaming,” she told Asian Correspondent.
Even Aung San Suu Kyi, who was at the center of yesterday’s vote, was unshaken. “It is not a strange result,” the Lady contended after the vote was cast. “It’s nothing special to be surprised about.” One positive outcome, Suu Kyi noted, is that people would now know who to vote for in the upcoming elections.
Many expect the National League for Democracy (NLD) to do well, but many equally believe that only a landslide victory could give them the political weight necessary to truly shake the current political system.
Such a triumph – akin to the one the NLD achieved in 1990, when they obtained 82 percent of the seats in Parliament in an election whose results were subsequently ignored – may not necessarily be at hand, particularly as tensions between the Buddhist and Muslim communities over the Rohingya issue are denting the NLD popularity.
A few days ago, Bhaddamta Vimala, the secretary of Ma Ba Tha, Burma’s best-known radical Buddhist group, openly called for supporters to vote for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is currently in power.
“We all should forget the bad that they have done in the past. They are doing good things for us now. We should support them now,” he said, according to the Irrawaddy. “I want this government to have one more term to run this country because I do not want our immature democracy to be damaged.”