READ!! Constitutional amendment: Superficial or genuine ? SAI WANSAI

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

It is heartening to hear that at long last the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has taken the step to amend the 2008 Constitution.

It was all the more a surprise for the possible constitutional review was proposed by Aye Myint and Thein Zaw, both former generals and senior members of the ruling, military-backed USDP.

Sai Wansai

Whatever the case, if this is meant to really push the country into the right path of democracy and federalism, it will be a dream come true, especially for the non-Burman ethnic nationalities and the progressive democratic forces, but if this is just a pre-empt action of the USDP to dictate the process of constitutional amendment according to the liking and pre-conceived ideas of the Burmese military and ultra-nationalist Burman politicians, it would be a failure and won’t be able to fulfil the aspirations of all the peoples residing within Burma. In other words, the military-backed Thein Sein regime is aware that its military-favoured or military-supremacy constitution has no place in a real democratic world, much less the genuine federalism aspired by the non-Burman ethnic nationalities, which occupy 55% of the landmass and numbered 40% of the total population.

And so it seems, with one stroke, the USDP has put all the ethnic and democratic forces on a defensive position by taking away their major political campaign theme of 2008 Constitutional amendment. With the nation-wide election looming, which is to be held in 2015, this could put the USDP in, an election campaign, good stead.

Accordingly, the review committee would include members of many political parties and outside experts, a senior parliamentary official said. If this is the case, the gathering of such committee should be carefully chosen to represent all the peoples of Burma and not just according to the liking of the ruling USDP government.

Another crucial issue is whether to amend the recent Presidential unitary system or to rewrite it altogether.

Given that the recent Constitution is ratified after a rigged 2008 referendum by the then ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) military regime and widely seen as military-favoured and undemocratic, many are of the opinion that it would be more appropriate to rewrite it anew.

According to Eleven news website on 20 February, lawyer U Ko Ni from Myanmar Lawyers Network, during a movement to rewrite the Constitution spearheaded by former political prisoners and supported by the lawyers, following a second workshop in Yangon, on 17 February, said that the 2008 Constitution is not suitable for promoting democracy.

“When the 2008 constitution was being drafted at the National Convention, the then-government restricted the public’s right to speak against it by passing a law that could send anyone criticising the constitution to jail for five to 20 years,” Ko Ni said. “Actually, our Constitution has no democratic criteria and it is impractical. No country in the world has such a Constitution like ours.”

Burma’s Constitution has many provisions that are totally contrary to democracy, he added.

“Many are wondering if the Constitution should be amended or rewritten, but I would say it is certain that the current Constitution is not a good one for us to march towards the goal of democracy,” he said.

On 15 March, Irrawaddy Burmese section reported that U Win Tin, a senior member of National League for Democracy (NLD) said that he welcomed the USDP amendment proposal and must even praise the two USDP MPs, Aye Myint and Thein Zaw for the good deeds. But he cautioned that it should not be superficial and must be done with pure good will and sincerity. He said to put it politely, the 2008 Constitution should be rewritten; in the past he had often stated that it should be torn apart.

Interest parties, stakeholders, local and international observers might be pinning their hope that the 2008 Constitution is amended, so that Aung San Suu Kyi could take up the presidential post after her possible win in 2015 nation-wide election.

The constitution disqualifies presidential and vice-presidential candidates whose spouses or children are citizens of a foreign country. Suu Kyi’s late husband, academic Michael Aris, was British, as are their two grown-up sons.

But for the non-Burma ethnic nationalities’, and as well for the Letpadung copper mine area residents’ aspirations, which many see that Aung San Suu Kyi seems calculated and indifferent in relation to those on the receiving end, would not be resolved by merely electing her to be the president.

As for the non-Burman ethnic nationalities, any kind of political give-and-take cannot deviate from the Panglong Agreement of rights of self-determination, equality and democracy within the mould of originally agreed federal setup, of 1947.

The contributor is the General Secretary of Shan Democratic Union (SDU) – Editor

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