In parallel to the intriguing silence over the tragedy of the Rohingyas, there has emerged a silver lining in Myanmar over Aung San Suu Kyi’s assertion to set up a committee to craft a revised Constitution, to replace the one choreographed by the dominant military. Comment on whether her agenda will attain fruition must await the evolution of developments not the least because the military still retains the power to veto constitutional change. This is the major impediment that Suu Kyi will have to countenance. Suffice it to register that she has been suitably bold to posit the nominally civilian government against the junta which still calls the shots behind a democratically elected façade. There is no mistaking the challenge that she has posed while emitting her signal of intent. This in itself must rank as a critical development in Myanmar’s narrative. Going by the terms of the 2008 Constitution, the military controls all ministries connected with internal security. Nay more, it has been allotted 25 per cent of the seats in parliament. Yet even with a quarter of the seats, the junta’s moves get precedence in matters of governance, tragically the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas ~ the worst since World War II. As the Senior Counsellor ~ short of President ~ Suu Kyi seems eventually to have realised that the election of 2015 has served to reinforce the constitutional shambolism after her prolonged incarceration.
Crucial is the timing of the initiative ~ barely a year ahead of the 2020 election. That tryst with democracy has been anathema in Myanmar since the early 1990s, when Suu Kyi scored a famous victory, but was yet denied the opportunity to assume power. She was instead sent to jail… and the rest is history. Three decades later, the National League for Democracy has now pledged to reform the controversial Constitution. The recent vote in Parliament was overwhelming; in real terms, it has accorded the short shrift to the 25 per cent presence of the military in the House. The reforms will be debated by a “cross-party committee”, which has been entrusted with the responsibility to draft a Bill that will change the 2008 Constitution. Myanmar being Myanmar, the vote in Parliament could well have been scuttled by the junta; the fact that it wasn’t would suggest that Suu Kyi has won the first round. Going by the calibration of seats, which must still seem tentative, the NLD will be entitled to 18 of the 45 seats on the committee, the military will have eight representatives, and the rest will be divided between other parties. The risk of a political showdown with the army is real. As much was clear early this month when the junta’s representatives were up in arms as the proposal was mooted in the House. Ergo, there will be red herrings across the trail. The army chief has, however, conceded that the Constitution “needs amendments”. That raises a scintilla of hope.