Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann has drawn criticism from MPs for handballing four controversial laws drafted by a committee led by U Wirathu back to the government.
U Wirathu, the chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Nationalism and Religion, sent the four draft laws to the president along with more than 1.3 million signatures of support, arguing that they are necessary to resolve “unbalanced social issues that are the main cause of current internal conflicts”.
The laws focus on converting religion, interfaith marriage, monogamy and population control.
President U Thein Sein then forwarded them to parliament on February 25 and urged MPs to enact them according to section 98 of the constitution, which states that the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw is responsible for laws “relating to other matters not enumerated in the legislative list”, which outlines the responsibilities of national and regional governments.
Thura U Shwe Mann called an emergency meeting before start of parliament discussion on February 27 and decided to send the laws back to the relevant ministries to rewrite them as bills. The religious conversion law was sent to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the marriage and monogamy laws to the Union Attorney General’s Office, and the population control law to the Ministry of Immigration and Population.
He added the laws should also be examined by the National Human Rights Commission, “which was established with members from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Home Affairs”.
The speaker said the laws “are very important for the sake of the people and the state” but also touch on “complicated religious issues”.
“We must be cautious about enacting these laws," Thura U Shwe Mann said.
"Therefore we believe that government ministries should give suggestions and make a bill for each of the laws. Our parliament will do our duties according to section 98 based on these bills."
However, a number of MPs said the laws were long overdue and suggested they were being used as a political ploy.
“It would have been better to enact them after the 2015 election," said U Hla Swe, an outspoken Amyotha Hluttaw representative from the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
He said the president and parliament were "playing volleyball" with the drafts, which were being used by some as a “weapon” to advance political interests in the 2015 election.
"This is a dangerous situation and I think some are deliberately trying to create a problem. [Enacting these laws] is like throwing a stone into a tranquil lake," U Hla Swe said.
U Tun Aung Kyaw from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party agreed the laws were long overdue. “We don't need to say too much more. It is very clear from what has happened in Rakhine [that the laws are needed]."
While the marriage law, which would place restrictions on who Buddhist women can marry, have attracted widespread criticism, Daw Nan Sae Bwa from the Phalone-Sawaw Democratic Party said they were need to “preserve” the rights of Buddhist women. She conceded they might not conform to international human rights standards but said they were suitable for Myanmar’s conditions.
"I believe these laws are needed ... I don't think they discriminate against a particular religion. They mainly just target Buddhist women.”