Disagreements stall contentious presidential security bill

NAY PYI TAW — Passage of the controversial Former President’s Security Bill was delayed in Union Parliament on Wednesday, after disagreements arose as to whether retired presidents should be granted an armed security detail.

Upper House lawmakers objected to amendments passed by the Lower House altering which ministry would have responsibility for providing the bodyguard detail. In the original bill, armed soldiers would be seconded from the Ministry of Defence, while the Lower House successfully moved that the security team should be unarmed police officers drawn from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

“In the bill, the bodyguards don’t have any weapons. In Europe the bodyguards of ex-presidents have weapons. Bodyguards of Myanmar’s former presidents should be allowed to keep arms for defense of ex-presidents”, said U Phone Myint Aung, an independent MP from Yangon Region, during the bill’s debate in the Upper House on Wednesday.

Phone Myint Aung wryly suggested that passing the bill as it stood would mean a presidential bodyguard would not be able to halt a potential attacker, and would instead only have the power to sue the assailant in court after the fact.

His criticisms were supported Lt. Col Myint Winn and Lt. Col Ye Naing Oo, the two Upper House military lawmakers to speak on the bill.

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The bill has proved controversial for its granting of blanket immunity for any actions of a former president conducted while in office, except in the case of a successful impeachment vote.

Outgoing President U Thein Sein is already protected from prosecution under the provisions of the military-drafted 2008 Constitution. Article 445 of the charter grants immunity to all members of the junta-era State Peace and Development Council, the supreme decision-making body of the military regime, of which Thein Sein was a senior member.

Other sections of the draft law formalise provisions outlined under Section 70 of the constitution, which grant retiring presidents a pension.

A joint sitting of the Union Parliament will consider the fate of the bill next week, in one of the final sessions before election winners take their seats on February 1. Thein Sein’s term will expire at the end of march. 

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