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Parliament Blow For Suu Kyi

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NAYPYIDAW: Myanmar’s parliament dealt a decisive blow to Aung San Suu Kyi’s (pic)hopes of amending the junta-era constitution that bars her from the presidency ahead of landmark elections, voting down a Bill that would have ended the military’s effective veto on charter change.

Yesterday’s vote, held after three days of energetic debate between uniformed soldiers and elected MPs, saw parliament shoot down a draft amendment that would have chipped away at the military’s political stranglehold.

Myanmar’s parliament continues to be dominated by the army and former generals despite reforms since the end of outright junta rule in 2011. Observers say the military is extremely reluctant to allow any further reduction to its powers.

The 436 amendment Bill was “not enacted”, parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann told the legislature after the 388 votes in favour of change fell below the threshold of 75% of all lawmakers needed for it to pass.

The result virtually extinguishes Suu Kyi’s chances of the presidency at this stage because of a provision excluding those with foreign children from the top office. Her sons are British.

Speaking directly after the result Suu Kyi urged Myanmar’s people not to “lose hope” after the failure to amend any major parts of the constitution.

Striking a note of defiance, she also vowed the opposition would not “back down” from elections slated for October or November.

The polls are likely to see Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy hoover up seats, if they are free and fair, and are seen as a crucial test of the country’s democratic transition.

The clause blocking Suu Kyi’s pathway to the presidency was not up for debate in the draft Bills before parliament yesterday.

But debate was dominated by proposals to change clause 436, which demands that 75% of parliamentarians must vote for major constitutional changes, ensuring that unelected soldiers have the final say.

Despite the expectation that the Bill would not pass, the legislature fell into silence as the results were announced, with several other proposed amendments also voted down.

Several senior MPs for the NLD, which garnered five million signatures in a petition on changing 436 last year, appeared visibly upset.

Military MPs have lined up to argue against the proposal to reduce the voting threshold on constitutional amendment to 70%, with analysts saying they fear trimming their own powers.

Brigadier General Tin San Naing told reporters earlier yesterday that the proposed change to 436 was “not suitable” because “our democracy is still in a nascent stage”.

Observers say the army is deeply wedded to its perceived role as the protector of the Myanmar constitution, which was drawn up under a former military regime that suppressed all dissent and kept Suu Kyi under lock and key for some 15 years.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, who entered parliament after the 2012 by-elections, has increasingly warned that Myanmar’s reforms have stalled.

Andrew McLeod, a Research Fellow in Law at the University of Oxford who advised the parliamentary committees that reviewed the constitution, said there is a slim chance the NLD could try to reignite its charter change fight immediately after the elections.

A president will be selected by a newly formed legislature, but in a quirk of the Myanmar system the current parliament’s term only finishes on Jan 31.

This period could give the NLD the chance at another crack at the constitution, said McLeod, using an election win as a mandate to try to “elect the president it wants”.

“The capacity is there to do that, though the military will still have a veto on any proposed changes,” he said.

The NLD last competed in a nationwide vote in 1990 when it won by a landslide, but was never allowed to take power. — AFP

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