Charter reform rallies draw ethnic crowds

In this file photo, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech at the National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Rangoon, September 2013 (AFP)

Rallies in support of constitutional reform were held across Burma on Saturday, drawing crowds in three administrative regions.

Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society (88GPOS), organised the gatherings in Tenasserim Division, Kachin and Mon states to garner public support for amending Article 436 of Burma’s military-drafted Constitution.

In Mon State capital Moulmein, NLD central committee member Nyan Win joined Htay Kywe of 88GPOS to address hundreds of supporters, including representatives of several ethnic Mon and Karen political parties. Originally to be held at a local Chinese temple, the event was relocated on short notice.

“It was raining that day and the temple’s manager apologetically withdrew their offer for unknown reasons, so we moved to the New Sky Hall. We had a full house, around 600 to 700 people,” said Htay Kywe.

Though permission for a rally in Bhamo, Kachin State, was denied by authorities, a crowd of about 1,000 people convened in the state capital Myitkyina. An NLD representative, Zaw Myint Maung, spoke on behalf of his party in support of change.

“I mentioned, as an elected MP, that the 2008 Constitution is one-sided and undemocratic,” he said. “The NLD has been against this Constitution since it was adopted, and we are trying to see it changed through the parliament.”

The movement also reached Burma’s southernmost border with Thailand, where the NLD’s Thura Tin Oo and Tin Linn Oo teamed up with Tun Myint Aung of 88GPOS to advance the same agenda of changing Article 436.

The clause has been prioritised by the NLD in their recent push for charter reform. Article 436 requires 75 percent parliamentary support for any changes to the Constitution, effectively granting veto power to the military, which holds 25 percent of seats.

Amending the article could open the possibility of revoking Article 59(f), a clause that prevents Burmese citizens with foreign relatives from running for the presidency. Presently, NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was married to a British man and has two children, is effectively banned from running for president in the November 2015 general elections.

Last year, public demand for charter reform led to the creation of a committee for gauging opinion and recommending changes. The committee revealed in January that 97 percent of respondents supported constitutional change, and in May announced that they will propose amending Article 436 during the current parliamentary session.

The NLD and 88GPOS teamed up for a nationwide campaign for charter reforms on 17 May in Rangoon, and have since been touring nationwide to build up public support.

By SHWE AUNG(DVB)

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