MPs to finish drafting bills to amend Myanmar’s constitution

Lawmakers are expected on Monday to finish drafting two bills to amend Myanmar’s constitution, a milestone in State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts to wrest power from the military.

The bills will be officially completed at an all-party meeting hosted by the committee tasked with suggesting the changes, said committee secretary Myat Nyana Soe.

“All the ethnic parties will attend the meeting… They have let us know they will attend,” he said.

One of the bills contains changes that can be decided on by a vote in parliament, while the second must also be approved in a public referendum.

Both bills will be submitted for debate to parliament when it resumes on January 27. The parliament will make decisions on the bills along with the amendment bills submitted separately by the military and USDP MPs.

The Tatmadaw and the USDP last year submitted five bills with their own ideas for changes to the charter, in a direct challenge to the authority of the amendment committee. They will be voted on along with the two main bills.

Without support from the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which has a large majority in both houses, the military-backed bills are doomed.

But the NLD also needs support from unelected military MPs who hold a quarter of seats for its changes to win the 75 percent of votes they need.

The exact changes proposed in the bills have not been made public, but the NLD has been pushing to gradually remove military MPs from parliament over several election cycles.

Aung San Suu Kyi is, in practice, appealing to the generals to voluntarily forfeit their ability to block changes to the charter they wrote in 2008.

The constitution guarantees the military sweeping political powers, including control of the home affairs, border affairs and defence ministries.

Tatmadaw and ethnic MPs, who make up eighteen of the 40 committee members, failed to attend a January-13 meeting to finalise the bills, sparking speculation that they were protesting over not being granted enough influence in the panel.

Myat Nyana Soe says he is hopeful all MPs will attend Monday’s meeting.

The bills need signatures from 20 percent of MPs across both houses in order to proceed to debate, a hurdle the NLD can easily clear with its parliamentary majority.

The committee plans to collect signatures from MPs on January 23 before parliament resumes, Dr Myat Nyana Soe said.

The Tatmadaw has not confirmed whether it will support the two bills, but it does not oppose the process in principle, lieutenant colonel Myo Htet Win told Myanmar Now.

“They can sign it themselves. I think they will do that. They haven’t informed us yet,” he said, referring to the NLD.

Tatmadaw MPs will attend Monday’s meeting if all the ethnic parties attend, he added.

One ethnic party MP who failed to attend the January-13 meeting, Naing Thiha of the Mon National Party, said he was merely busy with his duties and was not expressing opposition to the amendment process.

“I have no plans to disagree with it,” he told Myanmar Now. Myanmar Now was unable to contact other MPs who were absent from the meeting.

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