President calls for constitutional reform in Independence Day speech

President U Htin Kyaw has called on the “national races” to work together to reform the military-drafted 2008 Constitution as the nation continues the process to build a democratic federal union.

Htin Kyaw, the first civilian head of state since 1962, made the call in a speech on January 4 marking the 70th anniversary of Independence Day, which celebrates independence from the United Kingdom. 

“As we build the Democratic Federal Republic, in accordance with the results of the political dialogues, we all need to work collectively for creating a suitable constitution,” Htin Kyaw said, referring to the dialogues taking part throughout much of the country as of the peace process. He did not explain what he meant by “suitable” constitution.

Htin Kyaw, who was elected to office in March 2016 days before the change of government to the National League for Democracy, listed charter reform as the second of five objectives that should be accepted by “all ethnic national Union citizens”.

The first was to preserve and protect non-disintegration of the Union and non-disintegration of national unity, and perpetuation of national sovereignty.

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The third called for utmost efforts to implement the peace process as soon as possible, and the fourth urged all nationalities to work with the State to achieve the goal of lasting peace through political dialogue.

The fifth highlighted the role of the private sector, as the main engine of growth in the economy, in improving and advancing living standards.

Amending the charter to remove the dominant role of the military is one of the most contentious issues facing the country as it continues the transition from junta rule that began in 2011. 

The constitution makes Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ineligible from contesting the presidency because her late husband and two sons are foreign nationals. It also gives the Tatmadaw control over the ministries of Defence, Home Affairs and Border Affairs as well as an effective veto over constitutional reform.

Unelected military MPs hold 25 per cent of Hluttaw seats and section 436 of the constitution requires amendments to be supported by 75 percent of the parliament.

A vote in the 664-member Pyidaungsu Hluttaw on June 2015 to lower the threshold to 70 percent was supported by 388 MPs, or 66.55 percent of the 583 parliamentarians at the joint sitting.

“I am not surprised with the result,” Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters after the vote. “This makes it very clear that the constitution can never be changed if the military representatives are opposed.”

Among the world leaders who sent messages of congratulations for Independence Day was United States President Mr Donald Trump.

“The democratic values the people of Myanmar endorsed in the 2015 election remain crucial to the long-term success, stability, and prosperity of your nation. The United States will remain a friend and partner to Myanmar in its ongoing democratic transition,” Trump said.

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