The government appears to be heading for another showdown with the parliament, after President U Thein Sein announced last week he plans to ask the Constitutional Tribunal to examine whether eight new laws conform to the constitution.
The decision could reignite a dispute with parliament that erupted in 2012 over the definition of “union-level organisations” and prompted MPs to impeach the entire tribunal. The submissions will be the first since a new tribunal was installed in February 2013, with the lower house speaker, upper house speaker and president selecting three members each to sit on the body.
The president’s information team announced on January 27 that the eight laws under scrutiny include two pieces of legislation – the anti-corruption law and farmers’ rights protection law – approved by MPs in 2013 and six recently amended laws.
The six amended laws – the Pyithu Hluttaw Law, Amyotha Hluttaw Law, Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Law, Region and State Hluttaw Law, Union Auditor General’s Office Law and Constitutional Tribunal Law – were enacted by the military government shortly before the transition to quasi-civilian rule.
The president sent all eight pieces of approved legislation back to MPs with suggested amendments that would, he argued, ensure they conform to the constitution. However, parliamentarians rejected all of the changes. In some cases the president refused to sign the legislation but under the constitution approved bills become law after seven days, with or without the president’s signature.
Despite the president’s misgivings on the bills, in some cases he enacted them out of respect for the sentiment of the majority of MPs.
In early 2012 the parliament and the government locked horns over the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling that parliamentary committees are not union-level organisations. MPs argued that this made them inferior in status to government ministries and would impede their efforts to hold the government to account. In September MPs impeached the tribunal’s members for failing to adhere to the constitution and inefficient discharge of duties – but not before its members resigned en masse.
U Pe Myint, a political commentator and consultant editor at political affairs journal Pyithu Khit (The People’s Age), said the president’s decision to submit the eight laws would test the independence of the new tribunal.
“This is the tribunal’s job,” he said. “But the last tribunal was forced out because of arguments between the executive and parliament. We will have to wait and see if this tribunal can stand independently or whether it will support one side.”
Under the constitution only the president, lower and upper house speakers, chief justice and Union Election Commission chairman can make submissions to the Constitutional Tribunal.