Myanmar military retains veto after constitution change vote fails

NAYPYITAW (TIP): A move to amend Myanmar’s constitution to remove the military’s legislative veto on key decisions fell short of the required 75 percent support in parliament on Thursday, preserving the armed forces’ powerful political role in the Asian nation.

The result was no surprise given that a quarter of the seats in the house are, by law, held by the military, which ruled Myanmar for half a century until 2011. The proposal aimed to trim the share of house votes needed to amend the constitution to 70 percent.

Another vote on a clause that effectively bars Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president also failed. The motion voted on would have only partially amended that article, however, meaning the 70-year-old democracy icon would still have been ineligible had it been passed.

Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) won the last free election by a landslide in 1990 – a result ignored by the junta – cannot become president because her two children are British citizens, as was her late husband.

The NLD suffered persecution under the former junta and says the military’s ability to shoot down changes to the constitution puts a limit on democratic reforms in Myanmar, where a general election is expected in November.

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Critics see it as an enshrined safeguard to protect the armed forces’ sizeable economic and political interests.

Suu Kyi said the outcome was of no surprise and it was “obvious” the military would not support amendments. The vote, she said, showed the electorate which forces in politics were for or against progress in Myanmar.

Resistance to change

“Today’s failure to amend the constitution doesn’t mean that the future of the country becomes hopeless,” she told a news conference.

“Just because there are people who neglect what the people wish for, it doesn’t mean we will stop trying.

“People realize now for whom to vote in the election and which people want change.”

Just one of the proposed changes put up for voting was accepted, a minor tweak to the wording of a clause that requires a presidential candidate to be “well-acquainted” with various affairs, removing the word “military” and replacing it with “defence”. Any approved changes require endorsement in a public referendum.

The NLD’s attempts to change the constitution prior to the election have met with resistance from the military and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which has former officers and businessmen with ties to the army among its ranks.

Suu Kyi took a swipe at the USDP for agreeing to debate only minor amendments and said military lawmakers voting as a bloc was understandable because of their allegiance to armed forces supremo, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Suu Kyi has taken a more conciliatory tone towards the military since becoming a lawmaker but spoke out against Min Aung Hlaing, the protege of former ruler Than Shwe, for wielding influence over parliament.

“He’s not elected by the people, so why does he have the right to decide whether the constitution will be amended or not?” she said.

Military lawmakers gave a series of speeches during the debate, which began on Tuesday, defending the continued political role of the armed forces and arguing that Myanmar’s transition to democracy was still fragile and needed to be protected.

The NLD, which has a history of boycotting what it saw as flawed political processes inspired by the former military dictatorship, has yet to confirm whether or not it will run in the election.

Suu Kyi said the decision did not ride on the amendment vote and the party needed “to consider other problems too.”

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