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Myanmar’s President Urges MPs to Safeguard Country’s Constitution

Myanmar's President Thein Sein prepares to deliver a speech to the National Assembly in Naypyidaw, Jan. 28, 2016. (Photo: RFA)

February 9, 2016

Myanmar's President Thein Sein called on lawmakers on Monday to safeguard the country’s constitution by amending or nullifying existing laws only in accordance with the charter’s terms.

The move comes amid widespread local media reports that the new National League for Democracy (NLD) party-led parliament could soon suspend a provision barring pro-democracy politician Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.

Thein Sein’s comment came a day after two pro-government television channels—Sky Net and Myanmar National Television—reported that “positive results” could come from negotiations between NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing about the suspension of Article 59(f).

The article in the 2008 constitution, which was drafted when a military junta ruled the country, bars anyone with foreign spouses or children from becoming president. This includes Aung San Suu Kyi, whose two sons are British nationals, as was her late husband.

Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won the Nov. 8 general elections by a landslide, has said that she will operate above the president, who will likely be another NLD politician.

However, she has yet to specify anyone for the post or explain how she will run the government through a proxy.

Last year, she spearheaded constitutional amendments to abolish Article 59(f) and lower the voting threshold for changing the constitution from 75 percent to 70 percent of the total members of parliament, but lawmakers rejected them.

Military lawmakers, who hold a constitutionally guaranteed 25 percent of parliamentary seats, control an effective veto over constitutional changes.

Military approval required

Brigadier General Tin San Naing, spokesman of the military bloc in parliament, told Reuters on Monday that there had been no discussions between the NLD and army to suspend Article 59(f) to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to become president.

He said the article could not be suspended but only amended with the military’s approval.

In his latest official message, Thein Sein expressed his concern about the issue, saying the country’s highest legislative body must safeguard the constitution whenever it prepares to amend any law because the members of parliament (MPs) have sworn to protect it.

He also said the country, which is on the right path for democracy and development, owes its success to the 2008 constitution.

His comment comes as lawmakers prepare to propose and vote on presidential candidates on March 17. On that day, parliament’s upper house, lower house and military representatives will each put forth a presidential nominee and cast votes. The winner will assume the presidency, while the other two become vice presidents.

Reported by Win Naing Toe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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