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To ‘protect’ or to ‘respect’? NLD wants change in oath


(Mizzima) – Aung San Suu Kyi’s debut in the Burmese Parliament on Monday may be determined by the government’s willingness – and ability – to find a compromise to a dispute over one word in the Constitution.  
Aung San Suu Kyi with reporters from the local and foreign press in Rangoon in November 2011. Photo: Mizzima
In taking an oath of office, Members of Parliament are required to pledge to “safeguard” the Constitution. Suu Kyi’s political party wants that word changed to “respect” the Constitution. Her party has said that it will offer amendments to change sections of the 2008 Constitution, which it says is undemocratic.

Nyan Win, a top tactician for the National League for Democracy party, consulted with government representatives in Naypyitaw on Thursday to reach a satisfactory compromise. No details were disclosed.

However, one bottleneck could be the issue of how to change the wording in time to swear in new members.

The current Lower House session is due to reconvene on Monday. One possible solution may be to resume the Parliament without swearing in NLD members.

In an address on Radio Free Asia on Thursday, Suu Kyi said she did not think the issue would be a serious obstacle to her party taking part in this session of Parliament.

“We don't mean we will not attend the Parliament, we mean we will attend only after taking the oath,” she said, speaking in Burmese, during her weekly address on RFA. “Changing that wording in the oath is also in conformity with the Constitution. I don't expect there will be any difficulty in doing it.”

But some lawmakers see a potential problem, perhaps requiring a vote by Parliament.

“The government may be in dilemma. They want to sort out this issue as soon as possible so that Aung San Suu Kyi can attend, but legally it is not that easy to change the wording,” a lower house parliamentarian, requesting anonymity, told Reuters news agency on Thursday.

Others said the NLD’s demand might not be popular with some of the more than 600 other lawmakers, who could block moves to change the oath and force Suu Kyi and her party into a stalemate.

However, that would be playing with fire at this point, with countries around the globe at this moment in the process of easing and removing sanctions against Burma. Most analysts say a compromise will be found, because there is too much at stake in terms of relations with the West and European countries.

The NLD party platform called for amending sections of the Constitution, including at some point challenging the composition of the Parliament itself, which gives 25 per cent of the seats to unelected military representatives, guaranteeing the sitting government a majority rule.

“We as citizens will abide by the Constitution, but the oath says we have to protect the Constitution. This is contradictory to our party policy,” Nyan Win told The Associated Press last week. “To enable our elected representatives to take the oath, we need the oath of affirmation changed or we get a clearer interpretation of what it means by protecting the Constitution.”

The oath is in an appendix to the Constitution, and it is unclear if it can be changed without going through the legal procedure for Constitutional change, requiring the approval of 75 percent of Parliament. A court ruling might accomplish the same goal, said some observers.

Win Tin, a senior NLD member, told Radio Free Asia that Suu Kyi had discussed the matter with President Thein Sein last week, but it wasn't clear what steps would be taken to resolve the differences.
Last Updated ( Friday, 20 April 2012 17:53 )  

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