Today Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD did not show up at the Parliament to take their newly-won seats. Their boycott stands against having to swear an oath to ‘safeguard’ the 2008 Constitution, an undemocratic constitution the NLD has called to revise. The NLD has said that they are willing to take an oath to ‘respect’ the constitution – but for now there is a showdown with neither side budging. >>
The constitution has been and continues to be the major significant issue surrounding democratization in Burma. During campaigning, the NLD made it very clear that one of their main goals is to change the military-drafted constitution. The Commander-in-Chief responded by reminding everyone that the Defense Services’ duty is to safeguard the constitution. This dilemma over the oath is emblematic over the bigger issue of how much power the military is willing to give up and will the NLD acquiesce. >>
What are the problems in the constitution?
The most often cited problem with the 2008 Constitution is that the military is guaranteed 25% of seats in Parliament; however, the issues are much deeper than just that. The constitution makes sure the military is not subject to any civilian control and has broad, purposefully vague powers. Constitutional expert David Williams notes how “under the Burmese constitution, the Tatmadaw [the military] will be “truly the lawgiver,” not the people elected in 2010.” >>
Moreover, the constitutions ensure the military has power over other branches of government and can widely control the country on a day to day basis. In his analysis, constitutional law expert Yash Ghai noted “The exemption of the military from any democratic and judicial principles, while playing a critical role in the political process, will mean that the most important organization in the country, with its tentacles in every institution and region of the state, will bring anti-democratic practices at the heart of government. The civilian authority and forces have no control over the military; on the contrary the military will control civilian forces, through its members in every legislative and executive institution in the country, and through the National Defence and Security Council.” >> We are seeing these problems come to fruition as Burma’s military continues attacks against the Kachin and other ethnic civilians, even though President Thein Sein has called for an end. >>
Amending the constitution is purposefully difficult, with 75% of votes needed in the Parliament. With the military holding 25% that means any amendment would need the support of every non-military MP.
We will have to wait and see what kind of resolution comes from this stalemate.
Here is a video from Australia Network News reporting on the situation: