Proposed changes to the constitution will require both parliament and government support if they are to be approved, Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann says.
“The extent to which the constitution can be amended depends on the [constitutional review] committee ... [But the] administrative body also needs [to participate] in the amendment process,” Thura U Shwe Mann told reporters in Nay Pyi Taw on August 16.
While he did not elaborate, his comments appear to be a reference to the 25 percent of seats in parliament filled by military MPs appointed by the commander-in-chief.
Changes to the constitution requires support from more than 75pc of MPs and, in some cases, a majority at a national referendum.
U Ye Tun, the Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Hsipaw, said he believed Thura U Shwe Mann was referring to internal USDP dynamics rather than parliamentary procedure.
“President U Thein Sein and members of his government have some influence over USDP representatives so I think this is what Thura U Shwe Mann may be referring to,” he said.
In contrast to Thura U Shwe Mann’s comments, President U Thein Sein has publicly stated that constitutional change is up to the parliament rather than the executive.
Nevertheless, momentum is building behind calls for constitutional change and last month the hluttaw formed a 109-member committee to review the constitution. Thura U Shwe Mann’s party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), has 52 representatives on the committee, while 25 are from the military and seven from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). All 18 parties with at least one MP are represented on the committee.
Committee member U Kyi Myint said the body was yet to begin reviewing the constitution.
“I do not know when we will start,” he said last week.
A focus of the debate over constitutional change has been section 59(f), which sets out the eligibility criteria for presidential candidates. In their current form they bar Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency because her children are British citizens.
Thura U Shwe Mann said MPs would consider “deeply” whether to change the eligibility criteria but warned they would not bow to outside pressure.
“One representative alone cannot amend the criteria for who can be president. All representatives must participate and they must follow the wishes of the people.”
Thura U Shwe Mann also acknowledged that some political parties and armed ethnic groups want to abolish the constitution rather than amend it.
“It is their opinion. It is the duty of parliamentarians and the people to do what is best for our country,” he said.