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Myanmar government ‘pivotal’ in constitutional change

Parliament speaker Shwe Mann talks to members of the media at the lower house in Naypyidaw on August 16, 2013. Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government has announced a series of political and economic reforms since coming to power in 2011 after the end of nearly half a century of military rule. AFP PHOTO
August 17, 2013
Myanmar’s
parliamentary speaker Friday said the government will be instrumental in any
amendment to the nation’s military-drafted constitution, which currently bars
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.
Parliament speaker
Shwe Mann talks to members of the media at the lower house in Naypyidaw on
August 16, 2013. Shwe Mann said the government will be instrumental in any
amendment to the nation’s military-drafted constitution, which currently bars
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.
Opposition members
of parliament and democracy activists have raised fears military lawmakers, who
have 25 percent of seats guaranteed under the current constitution, may prove
an obstacle to amending the document regardless of whether the government
presses for change.
But former
general-turned-speaker Shwe Mann on Friday told reporters that the decision to
amend the constitution — or not — before a hotly-anticipated general election
in 2015 will need the blessing of reformist President Thein Sein’s government.
The house last
month formed a committee to review the document made up of 109 lawmakers
including 52 from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)
party, 25 from the military and seven MPs from Suu Kyi’s National League for
Democracy (NLD) party.
“How far we
can complete an amendment of the constitution (before 2015) depends on the
struggle between committee members,” Shwe Mann, who is chairman of both
lower and upper houses, told reporters in a rare press briefing convened in the
capital Naypyidaw.
“The main
thing is that it’s very important the administration is involved. Whenever a
law is enacted, the involvement of the administrative body is very
important.”
Reporters had been
told Suu Kyi would also attend the briefing but she withdrew to be present at a
parliamentary session.
A major hurdle to
Suu Kyi’s stated presidential ambitions is the current constitution, crafted
under the former military regime and which blocks anyone whose spouses or
children are overseas citizens from leading the country.
Opposition
politicians and democracy activists have criticised the constitution, which was
written by the former junta more than a decade ago and approved by a nationwide
referendum in 2008 soon after the country had been battered by a cyclone.
Shwe Mann said any
tweaks to the constitution must be done “very carefully” but insisted
the issue was being taken seriously within parliament.
Analysts have said
an amendment before 2015 is a difficult task for the ruling government, given
that they need the support of the military lawmakers.
But one lower house
lawmaker told AFP the government will be instrumental in the path ahead for any
amendment.
“Without the
cooperation of the executive we can not do it,” the MP added, requesting
anonymity.
Suu Kyi in June said
she wanted to run for the top office.
Incumbent Thein
Sein is yet to indicate if he will stand in the 2015 polls, anticipated to be a
milestone in Myanmar’s transformation from an authoritarian nation to
democracy.
The speaker, a key
architect of reforms since the end of junta-rule in 2011, is the only other
figure to declare he will contest the presidency.