By Francis Wade
Burma’s new president will not require consent from parliament over matters ranging from the protection of war refugees to the mining of natural resources, domestic news has revealed.
Thein Sein, who was sworn into office on 30 March as Burma’s first civilian leader in nearly half a century, must only consult with other MPs on seven treaties and bills, the Weekly Eleven said. It was quoting clauses in a supplement of the parliamentary law text, or Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Law.
He will also have unilateral authority to dismiss asylum claims, ban nuclear research and prevent terrorism.
The seemingly disparate range of extra-parliamentary powers is at first sight perplexing – he also has the final say on “cultural exchange” and “ban on use of poisonous gas in military operations” – but some of the language may be veiled, with one clause appearing to allow him total control over communication systems, including internet and telephone, and therefore the ability to shut them down without notice.
Another gives the president the rights over distribution of electricity in Burma, where only 20 percent of the population have regular power access.
The revelation will beg further questions of the legitimacy of a parliament which is overwhelming dominated by politicians loyal to the previous junta, and a quarter of whose seats are taken up by pre-appointed military officials.
Thein Sein is very much a product of the junta that ruled Burma in various guises for decades. Analysts believe the former military general was appointed as president largely on the grounds of his loyalty to former strongman Than Shwe, as well as the clean reputation that stands him apart from many in its corrupt upper echelons.
No details are given in the law text that may explain how, for instance, the president can go about “preventing terrorism”, nor the criteria he’ll use to determine a terrorist – a worrying sign given the number of peaceful activists convicted on terrorism charges.
Likewise, awarding a key architect of the former junta’s campaign against ethnic armies the ultimate power to decide the fate of refugees will also trigger concern.
It follows the announcement last month of the newly-created Special Funds Law, which gives the commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, supreme authority to allocate unlimited additional money to the army without any notice, and without parliamentary consent.