By Dr. S. Chandraasekharan
After a landslide victory in 2015, the NLD waited till January 2019 to make a move for Constitutional amendments.
Some critics would say that while NLD knew that nothing can be done, it was the impending National elections that forced the Party to make proposals for Constitutional amendments. Knowing Suu Kyi who had consistently avoided any confrontation with the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar Army) her approach was and still I,s to gradually reconcile with the Army and reduce the Army’s stranglehold on the governance of the country step by step.
The Army on the other hand while making lip service to federalism and devolution of power had been consistently opposing any move to amend the constitution that would result in the reduction of its powers and its hold on defence, Internal administration and Border Affairs.
This drama of constitutional amendments was played out in full in the Lower house (Parliament- Piyuthu Hluttaw) between February 25th and March 5. Fifty Representatives each from the Army and the NLD, 26 from the Army Proxy the USDP and other ethnic Groups participated in the debate.
The Army while in the past had been fooling the people that it is not opposed to Constitutional amendments perse but only to the manner and the procedure followed by the Ruling Party in moving for amendments had to expose its true colours in the debate that followed in discussing the individual amendments. The Army Representatives led by its leader Brigadier Maung Maung not only opposed the amendments but seriously threatened that the amendments will result in “undesirable results.”- perhaps a hint from his Master the Commander in Chief of a possible Coup!
There were heated discussion,s though the results were already known that no amendment can be made to the Army drafted Constitution unless it is acceptable to the Army.
Let us see some of the proposals:
- Chief Ministers of Sates should be elected by the respective assemblies (Hluttaw) and not selected by the Centre. This is an anomaly that should never have been there-but strangely the NLD appears to be opposed to it. For example, in Arakan State Assembly, the NLD is in a minority and strangely an NLP Party member has been appointed as the Chief Minister much to the chagrin of the locals who have elected the local Arakanese Party members in large numbers.
- The USDP Representative had proposed reducing the rights and authority of the President but not that of the Army! This as expected was severely opposed by the NLD Representatives.
- The Army Representative suggested that article 59(f) that gives in detail the eligibility for appointment of President and Vice President included with the specific intention of preventing the appointment of Suu Kyi as President should be made applicable to Union Ministers, Chief Ministers of States and Regions. This suggestion was done more to humiliate Suu kyi and is not going to be accepted by the Ruling Party.
- The USDP ( surely on instructions from the Army) suggested an enhanced role for the National Defence and Security Committee. This Committee which has a majority of Army Representatives was never convened by the President for obvious reasons. It was suggested that the meetings of the Council should take place every two months and can be convened if moved by five or more members. The idea was certainly to force the President to convene the meetings as and when desired by the Army!
- The NLD Representative on the other hand wanted an even playing field and therefore suggested the removal of the Minister for Border Affairs who is a Military appointed Minister under the Constitution with the civil Representatives- the Deputy Speakers of the Lower and Upper House. (Piyuthu Hluttaw and Amyotha Hluttaw)
- There were heated arguments in discussing amendments to Article 436 of the Constitution that gives the Parliament approval of 75 percent and above for amendments which in essence would mean a veto by the Army that has 25 percent members of Parliament selected by it. The NLD was for a gradual reduction with building more trust and confidence between the Army and the Elected leaders with a reduction to 15 percent of the Army for now and then on to ten percent in the next elections and by 2030 to 5 percent. This was a reasonable proposal but the Army would have nothing of it.
- The NLD wanted to add the clause with the “ will of the people” to Artticle 6 (f) in “enabling the Defence Services to be able to participate in the National Political leadership of the State” and some even suggested the total removal of the existing clause but were stoutly opposed by the Army and USDP Representatives.
- The NLD also opposed Article 40 (C) of the Constitution giving sovereign powers to the Commander in Chief during the State of Emergency, but was opposed on the ground that it could lead to the disintegration of the country!
All in all, this exercise of amending the Constitution to dilute the powers of the Army and its stranglehold on the governance of the Country appears to be “an exercise in futitlity” but at any rate despite strong opposition from the Army that was expected, the NLD had been bold enough to demand that continued Army dominated and Army drafted Constitution that perpetuates its dominant position is no longer acceptable to the people.