Sunday, August 20, 2017

'State counsellor' bill approved despite military voting boycott

Military MPs rose to their feet in protest and boycotted voting yesterday but it was all in vain as the NLD-dominated lower house today overwhelmingly approved the State Counsellor bill, creating a key new post for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Brigadier General Maung Maung, a senior military delegate, denounced the outcome as "bullying".

Having already passed the upper house last week, the unchanged legislation goes directly to President U Htin Kyaw to be signed into law.

Attempts by three military MPs and one representative from the Union Solidarity and Development Party to propose 13 amendments to the bill were rejected, as parliament witnessed for the first time the sea change in the balance of legislative power following the NLD’s crushing election victory last November.

Military-appointed MPs, who make up 25 percent of parliament, argued that the legislation was unconstitutional on several fronts, mainly because it affects the division of powers between the executive and legislature.

They refused to voteo n all the amendments and stood up in unison to register their protest at the end of the session whe nthe Speaker asked lawmakers to confirm the passage of the bill.

Commentators see the position of “state counsellor” as in effect creating the post of prime minister for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who is constitutionally barred from serving as president.

Brig Gen Maung Maung warned in advance that the military bloc would boycott each vote on their amendments if it was clear that they would not be passed.

After the session he told reporters, “There is a word for this: bullying – by the democratic majority. Now the situation is like that. So military MPs did not vote.”

The National League for Democracy denies the law is intended to give powers akin to that of prime minister to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Nonetheless MPs have said it was a response to article 59(f) of the constitution which bars her from holding the presidency because her sons are foreign nationals.

While analysts agree that the bill reflects the popular mandate given to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi last November, they differ over the possible repercussions of this first and open conflict with the Tatmadaw. Some argue that the NLD leader will use her tact, charisma and intelligence to create a relationship of trust with the military in her new position. Others fear that what they see as her autocratic tendencies – she is also foreign minister and head of the President’s Office – risk triggering a breakdown in relations.

Among the amendments tabled by the military yesterday was a proposal to change the title of “State Counsellor” to “President’s Counsellor”.

But Pyithu Hluttaw Bill Committee member U Wai Hlaing Tun insisted that the legislation was in accord with section 217 of the constitution which allows parliament to create specific executive posts.

Voting went ahead, and with the military boycotting, the lower house passed the bill as presented by 262 votes in favour, 22 against and 9 abstentions, out of a total of 405 eligible voters.

An attempt by the military to insert the phrase “Union of the State which applies a genuine, disciplined multi-party democratic system” was also voted down.

A third attempt by the military, which would have made Daw Aung San Suu Kyi answerable in her new role to the president and not to the Union Parliament as stated in the bill, was similarly overturned.

A vaguely worded provision of the bill interpreted as giving Daw Aung San Suu Kyi the authority to deal directly with parliament was also challenged by the military, which sought to limit her access to organisations and officials in the executive. Again the military lost the vote which it boycotted.

Military MPs and U Thein Tun of the USDP complained that the law had been drawn up in haste without consulting relevant experts and the Attorney General’s Office, as had been the practice in the previous parliament.

The legislation could yet be challenged in the Constitutional Tribunal, according to U Ba Shein of the Arakan National Party, but that body was packed with NLD appointees after the new government took office last week. “It is politics. We don’t want to comment,” he said after the

Translation by Zar Zar Soe and Thiri Min Htun