Amendment committee submits bills to limit military’s political power

Bills submitted to parliament Monday by a charter amendment committee would drastically limit the military’s role in government if passed, but they face significant opposition from a veto-wielding block of military MPs.

The bills contain more than 114 proposed amendments, including ones that would move oversight of the military from the Defence Services to the popularly-elected president and slowly remove all military-appointed MPs.

The bills are the result of the charter amendment committee’s year-long process of gathering thousands of constitutional amendment proposals from more than a dozen political parties.

The proposals were split into two bills: one containing 51 proposed amendments that under article 436 (a) of the constitution need more than 75 percent of MPs’ votes and more than 50-percent support in a national referendum to pass, and another containing 63 proposed amendments that under article 436 (b) must only meet the parliamentary vote threshold.

Lawmakers received drafts of both bills during a parliamentary session on Monday.

The military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) also submitted five of their own bills on 2 September seeking to preserve and even expand the military’s political power. Union speaker T Khun Myat on Monday ordered those bills to be merged into the two current bills.

A new, “30-member” committee was also formed Monday to analyze the new bills. It is being chaired by Lanmadaw township representative Khin Maung Win, with Dr Myat Nyarna Soe serving as secretary-general.

That committee’s work should be wrapped up within two weeks, when the group will present its reorganized bills, said Myat Nyarna Soe.

“The constitution will be amended without harming the essence of the law,” he said.

But lieutenant general Myo Htet Win, a military MP, criticized the bills for representing only the wants of the NLD and ignoring his colleagues.

“It doesn’t reflect the input from the military representatives at all,” he said

It is not yet known when the two bills will be finalized in parliament, but the NLD has said they’d like to complete the process before the end of their current term, in February 2021.

Proposals in the first bill needing to surpass the 75-percent threshold in parliament and a majority of support in a public referendum would:

  • revoke a constitutional provision that places police under the control of the military-appointed minister of home affairs.

  • reduce the number of military-appointed MPs every five-year parliamentary term to 5% by 2030.

  • move the authority to declare a state of emergency from the military-controlled National Defence and Security Council to the president and the union parliament.

  • make the union supreme court the highest court authority in the country, above military courts.

  • abolish section 59 (f) of the constitution, which prevents anyone with a foreign-born spouse or children from becoming president—a provision largely seen as tailor-made to keep Aung San Suu Kyi from the top post—and revise a provision that presidential candidates must be “well-acquainted” with military affairs.

  • lower the threshold of needed parliamentary votes in articles 436 (a) and (b) from more than 75 percent of all MPs to just over two-thirds of elected MPs.

Proposals in the second bill required only to surpass the 75-percent threshold of parliamentary votes would:

  • increase the legislative powers of local, self-administered governments, including the ability to levy taxes.

  • give amnesty-granting powers to the president without requiring the consent of the National Defence and Security Council.

  • require that military officers appointed to government posts retire from the armed services before assuming office.

  • raise the vote count required to recall a sitting MP from 1 percent to 20 percent.

  • redesign the national flag in red and blue, with a large white star surrounded by 14 small, white stars.


Correction: A previous version of this story falsely stated that the first bill would eliminate seats reserved for military MPs by 2030. The bill would to maintain 5% of military-appointed seats beyond that date. We regret the error.

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