Myanmar Parliament Looks to Curb Military Power with Constitutional Reform

Myanmar’s cross-party constitutional reform committee set up to discuss amendments to a charter granting the military considerable political power, met for the first time last Wednesday. The joint committee, established by a vote in Parliament earlier this month, is considering reforms to the charter that gives the military control over all three security ministries and a quarter of the seats in Parliament. The fact that any constitutional change in Myanmar requires votes from more than 75 per cent of Parliament members means that the army has an effective veto in the legislature.

Out of the 45 seats on the new committee, 18 have been given to the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party led by de facto government head Aung San Suu Kyi, eight will go to the military, and the rest will be filled by representatives from other parties.

The creation of the joint committee once again puts Myanmar’s uneasy power-sharing relationship between the civilian government and the armed forces in the spotlight. Military members of Parliament said at a press conference Saturday that although the army is not against constitutional amendments, it would thwart changes to the ‘essence of the Constitution,’ echoing commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing’s comments during his interview with a Japanese newspaper earlier this month. One general also argued that a 45-member panel would be insufficient to review the charter containing 48 basic principles, and that the procedures in forming the panel were “not in line with the Constitution.”

Constitutional reform was a key part of NLD’s campaign pledge during the 2015 election, in which the party ended decades of military-backed rule with a landslide win. Many expect the NLD party to take concrete action to deliver on its promise as the 2020 general election approaches, and thousands of protesters on February 27 took to the street in Yangon to support amending the Constitution.

The amendments committee will meet  three times a week and is scheduled to submit a draft constitutional amendment bill to Parliament by July 17.