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17 – 23 November: Constitutional Stalemate Sinks Hopes of Genuine Democracy and National Reconciliation

November 25, 2014

2008-Myanmar-Constitution-in-Burmese-and-EnglishOn Tuesday 18 November, Parliamentary Speaker of the lower house of the Burma Parliament Thura Shwe Mann boldly announced – to everyone’s great frustration but no one’s great surprise – that there would be no amendments made to the controversial 2008 Constitution before the 2015 national elections. So, what are the implications of this announcement, and why is the timing significant?

The implications for democracy in Burma are threefold. First, unless Article 59(f) is amended, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will not be able to lead her NLD party and run for President in the 2015 elections. Although many have long feared the worst, thus far hope has persisted, especially in light of the NLD’s highly successful campaign in favor of constitutional amendment, which attracted five million signatories in support. However, Thura Shwe Mann now seems to be calling time on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s political career – and the dreams of so many long-suffering and long-hopeful Burmese – smoothly but ruthlessly side-lining her until such time as she can safely be labeled a political irrelevance, and dumped for good. At the same time, his comments can be interpreted as an oblique, discreet and wily announcement of his own ambitions for a tilt at the presidency next year.

Second, without a significant overhaul of the 2008 Constitution to ensure that the rights, autonomy and self-determination of ethnic minority nationalities are respected and enshrined in law, the peace process does not stand a chance. Fighting rages on in Kachin State – not to mention in northern Shan and Karen State – with no sign of abating. The day after Thura Shwe Mann made his announcement, 23 Kachin and other ethnic nationality soldiers were killed and as many as 15 wounded when Burma Army troops fired on a military training base in Laiza, the strategic headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army.

Despite some military MPs’ expressing their support for power-sharing between the Union Government and State Governments during the recent parliamentary debate on the Constitutional Amendment Implementation Committee’s report, one general offered a different perspective. Defence Services personnel MP Colonel Khin Myint suggested: “At present, peace cannot be restored in the regions where there are some skirmishes between armed ethnic groups and government troops. As some protests continue to take place for various reasons, we should not amend […] the Constitution.” Such comments are particularly disingenuous in light of the unprovoked and disproportionate Burma Army attacks in Kachin State.

Finally, without amendment of Article 436 – which requires a vote of 75% of both houses of Parliament in order to authorize constitutional amendment, and upon which all other possible constitutional amendments hinge – the military will retain its effective veto on constitutional amendment given its prescribed 25% seat allocation. This means that the essence of politics in Burma has not changed since the so-called reforms began in 2011: the military is still able to run the country, albeit dolled up in the trappings and cosmetics of democracy. It also means that military impunity for human rights abuses, war crimes, and crimes against humanity will continue to be constitutionally enshrined.

As for the timing – it cannot be a coincidence that this declaration of intent by Thura Shwe Mann comes so soon after President Obama’s visit to Burma. It is a transparent and age-old tactic, often used by authoritarian regimes when they are trying to court international friends: wait until the leaders and dignitaries are safely on their way home, and then announce controversial strategies, take repressive action, leak bad news. It is a worrying sign that this constitutional bombshell comes so soon after President Obama’s trip, as it shows that the Burma Government and Army mean business.

Sadly, it rather looks like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is conceding defeat. The day after Thura Shwe Mann’s speech, she said that she accepted this view that proposed amendments to the 2008 Constitution will have to wait until after the 2015 national elections to be put to a vote in Parliament. But why? If the elections are held on the basis of the current undemocratic 2008 Constitution, then they will not be free and fair.

Despite the fact that President Obama has left Burma, he and the international community should immediately condemn this recent declaration, and apply as much economic, political and moral leverage as it takes to ensure that the Burma Government proves its reformist credentials and initiates urgent constitutional action before the 2015 national elections. Democracy in Burma depends upon it; and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi above all others should know that.

News Highlights   

Burma Army attacks Kachin Independence Army (KIA) with artillery missiles on a training ground near Laiza in Kachin State, killing 23 young men and injuring 20 men who are taking part in an officer training program run by KIA and Burma Army says deadly shelling of KIA’s military academy was “unintentional” but General Secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council refuted their statement, insisting the attack was deliberate

Inside Burma

As recent reports by international organizations confirm thousands of Rohingya are exiting Burma, President Thein Sein denies that the Rohingya are escaping “torture” in Rakhine State, accusing the media of fabricating stories while the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee approves a resolution urging Burma to allow its persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority “access to full citizenship on an equal basis” and to scrap its controversial identity plan

The Democracy Education Initiative Committee, comprised of students request the Burma Government to convene a quadripartite meeting to address issues with the controversial National Education Law, which has prompted large street protests and outcry from education groups

Burma Government and Karenni National Progressive Party jointly plan to construct a village on the eastern bank of the Salween River in a bid to resettle internally displaced persons affected by the long-term civil war in Kayah State, a civil war which has displaced over 15,000 Karenni’s who currently live as IDPs

Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Burma Army troops clash in KIA controlled Hka Shang village near Manje township, in eastern Kachin State

United Wa State Army (UWSA) denies allegation of acquiring large quantities of Chinese-manufactured anti-aircraft weapons

As many as 20 journalists who lead an unauthorized prayer service on International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists in Rangoon earlier this month may face charges


Officials from Third Regional Army in Thailand who oversee security along the Thailand-Burma border request all ethnic armed organizations and civil society organizations in Thailand to notify meetings, seminars and workshops in advance, as the groups are required to host Thai officials as observers

Women’s representatives from Burma Government, civil society organizations and exiled women’s groups from Burma, attend the Asia-Pacific Conference on Beijing+20 in Bangkok, Thailand to call for Burma’s constitutional amendment to empower women and promote gender equality

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon makes a trip to Bagan to attend the Asean Defence Ministers Meeting

Bangladesh authorities rescue more than 600 trafficking victims from Burma and Bangladesh and Police in Malaysia detain five Burmese nationals suspected of being members of a trafficking syndicate after they found 55 Burmese national victims in a weak condition in a house in George Town, Malaysia


Burma and Austria sign a memorandum of understanding to develop a hydropower plant in Mandalay Region

National League for Democracy Party’s chairperson Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will visit China in December

Japan’s Defense Minister Akinori Eto will meet his ASEAN counterparts in Burma and likely discuss cooperation in maritime security, humanitarian aid and disaster relief with the defense chiefs from the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ agrees to pay $315 million and sanction employees to resolve allegations it misled New York regulators about bank transactions that violated US economic sanctions against several countries, including Iran, Sudan and Burma


Burma shies from its nuclear protocol responsibilities again
By Robert Kelley
The Democratic Voice of Burma

Return of the Myanmar Military?
By Min Zin
The New York Times

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Statements and Press Releases

ဖြဲ႔စည္းပံုအေျခခံဥပေဒ ျပင္ဆင္ေရး ၈၈ မ်ိဳးဆက္ (ၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးႏွင့္ ပြင့္လင္းလူ႔အဖြဲ႔အစည္း) ၏ သေဘာထား ထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
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This post is in: Weekly Highlights