Constitutional reforms in Myanmar ‘cannot be rushed’

Published: 6:14 AM, August 4, 2014
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SINGAPORE — Constitutional reforms in Myanmar need to be seen through, but the process cannot be rushed, the country’s Coordinating Minister for Economic Development, Mr U Soe Thane, said.

He was referring to moves by the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party to lobby for constitutional amendments to allow its leader Aung San Suu Kyi to contest next year’s presidential election.

Noting that the country’s reforms are a long-term process, Mr U Soe Thane said he expects President Thein Sein to contest the election.

Mr U Soe Thane was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the 7th ASEAN and Asia Forum organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs on Friday.

The NLD has been lobbying to amend Article 436 of the Constitution — a controversial clause that effectively bars any reform of the charter without full military approval — saying it is undemocratic. Ms Suu Kyi is barred from contesting the election under a constitutional provision which mandates that candidates with a foreign child or spouse cannot run for the presidency. Ms Suu Kyi’s late husband was British and she has two children who are also British citizens.

“We accept that the Constitution should be amended ... You can amend it according to the procedure,” said Mr U Soe Thane, referring to the requirement that constitutional amendments have to go through Parliament.

The NLD has ramped up its efforts to campaign for public support to amend Article 436. Two weeks ago, it said it had received five million signatures backing the move, but it is unclear how much sway the campaign holds with the country’s Parliament.

Last month, members of Mr Thein Sein’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) emphasised the importance of a parliamentary committee tasked with recommending constitutional amendments.

Since taking power in March 2011 after nearly half a century of military rule, Mr Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government has embarked on a series of political reforms — including releasing almost all of the country’s political prisoners and renewing dialogue with ethnic rebel groups that have fought for decades for autonomy. Next year’s poll is seen as a crucial test of the progress of the country’s reforms.

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