Myanmar: USDP Announces Surprise Constitutional Amendment Proposal

RANGOON — In a surprise announcement the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) said it had decided to put forth amendments to Burma’s controversial 2008 Constitution, including a change to a provision that prevents opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.

The USDP’s Central Committee met in the capital Naypyidaw on Monday, where members discussed and voted in support of 51 constitutional amendments, according to Hla Swe, a committee member.

Key among them is a plan to change provision 59F, a clause that currently prevents National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Suu Kyi from becoming Burma’s president, as it states that a president’s spouse or children cannot be citizens of a foreign country.

Suu Kyi was married to British national Micheal Aris, who died in 1999, and she has two sons who are British subjects.

Hla Swe said the USDP agreed to amend article 59F to allow the presidential candidate to take office if his or her children and spouse adopt Burmese citizenship.

Asked if Suu Kyi could become president following the amendment, he said, “As far as I’m concerned, if the two sons of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi adopt Myanmar citizenship, everything will be alright as her husband is deceased.”

Other proposed constitutional amendments include changes that would allow district and township administrators to be directly voted in by local constituencies, Hla Swe said, while state and division chief ministers would be chosen by the local legislative and no longer directly appointed by the president.

He said the USDP had agreed to soon submit the proposed amendments to Parliament, where the party holds a more than 52-percent majority following the flawed 2010 elections.

The USDP was formed in 2010 as the political incarnation of the former military regime and the party is dominated by former junta leaders.

The USDP announcement seems to have surprised the NLD and party spokesman Nyan Win said the party would soon release an official reaction to the proposed amendments.

“We will let you know everything about our plans on constitutional change, including Article 59F,” he said, without elaborating.

According to NLD lawmaker Min Thu, Suu Kyi had registered her two sons as Burmese citizens at the Burmese embassy in London shortly after their births in the 1970s.

“She revealed this since her first press conference in 1989,” he said, adding, however, that the military government rescinded her sons’ Burmese citizenship in the years after 1989.

After seizing power in a coup in 1988, the Burmese military crushed a huge pro-democracy uprising and it ignored the results of the 1990 elections, which Suu Kyi’s NLD won in a landslide victory.

The military held on to power and began to slowly draft its own undemocratic Constitution, completing the process in 2008. It reserves 25 percent of all Parliament seats to the military and constitutional change can only take place if more than 75 percent of the MPs support it—a clause that gives the military a veto on constitutional change.

Since becoming an MP in 2012 following by-elections, Suu Kyi has called for broad-ranging changes to the Constitution, but USDP MPs had thus far dragged their feet on such discussions.

In recent weeks, Suu Kyi announced her party would consider a boycott of the 2015 elections—which are supposed to be Burma’s first free and fair elections in three decades—unless significant changes were made to the Constitution.

On Saturday, the NLD announced, however, that it would contest in 2015, regardless of the status of Burma’s Constitution, the Associated Press reported.

Political commentator Yan Myo Thein said it remains to be seen how quickly the USDP-dominated Parliament will pass the amendments and whether the military MPs will support it.

“To amend the provisions, you need to have more than 75 percent agreement from MPs,” he said. “That means it’s very important that you take the military MPs [decision] into consideration.”

Brig-gen Wai Lin, the leader of the military MPs’ Constitutional Amendment Review Committee, said the officers had already discussed making potential changes to the Constitution. “We will disclose it soon,” he said, before declining further comment.