Myanmar army warns against changing ‘essence’ of constitution

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar’s military last Saturday said they would thwart attempts by leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party to alter the “essence” of the country’s controversial constitution, putting the army and civilian administration on a collision course over the politically-charged issue.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) dominated 2015 elections ending decades of military-backed rule.

But because of a 2008 charter scripted by the military, the NLD was forced into an uneasy power-sharing agreement.

The constitution grants the armed services control of security ministries and a quarter of unelected parliamentary seats.

That hands the military an effective veto over constitutional change.

Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun (R), Major General Soe Naing Oo (C) and Major General Tun Tun Nyi of Myanmar’s military information committee attend a press conference in the Yangon division military headquarters in Yangon. – AFP

But the NLD-dominated parliament voted earlier this month to form a cross-party committee to look at reforms of the charter, a key campaign pledge.

The party will be allocated 18 out of 45 seats on the panel, the military will have eight and the remainder will be divided between other parties.

There has been no detail about the specific reforms, but military MPs stood up in protest when the idea was first mooted.

Major General Tun Tun Nyi told reporters in Yangon that 45 people is not enough to review the charter and the process “would not be fair”.

Tun Tun Nyi said the army is not opposed to amendments but “we are rejecting trying to change the constitution this way”.

Brigadier General and military Member of Parliament Than Soe said they would take part in the panel but would oppose changes to the “essence of the constitution”, echoing rare comments by commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing in an interview this month with Japanese paper Asahi Shimbun.

Debates over the constitution are highly sensitive in Myanmar, especially among nationalist movements.