Myanmar military retains veto after constitution change vote fails

  • World
  • Thursday, 25 Jun 2015

Magnetic cards with various pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi are displayed for sale in a shop in Yangon April 5, 2015. REUTERS/Minzayar

NAYPYITAW (Reuters) - A move to amend Myanmar's constitution to remove the military's legislative veto on key decisions fell short of the required 75 percent support in parliament on Thursday, preserving the armed forces' powerful political stake.

The failure to trim the share of house votes needed to amend the constitution to 70 percent was no surprise given that unelected members of the military, which ruled Myanmar for half a century until 2011, hold a quarter of the seats.

Another vote on a clause that effectively bars Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president also fell short of the support needed. The motion voted on would have only partially amended that clause, however, meaning the 70-year-old democracy icon would still have been ineligible had it been passed.

Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) won the last free election by a landslide in 1990 - a result ignored by the junta - cannot become president because her two children are British citizens, as was her late husband.

The NLD suffered persecution under the former junta and says the military's ability to shoot down changes to the constitution puts a limit on democratic reforms in Myanmar, where a general election is expected in November.

Critics see it as an enshrined safeguard to protect the armed forces sizeable economic and political interests.

Just one of the proposed changes voted on Thursday was accepted, a minor tweak to a clause that requires a presidential candidate to be "well-acquainted" with various affairs, removing the word "military" and replacing it with "defence".

Any approved changes require endorsement in a public referendum.

The NLD's attempts to change the constitution prior to the election have met with resistance from the military and ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which has former officers and businessmen with ties to the army among its ranks.

Only just over two-thirds of lawmakers present backed the motion to effectively remove the military's veto.

Military lawmakers gave a series of speeches during the debate, which began on Tuesday, defending the continued political role of the armed forces and arguing that Myanmar's transition to democracy was still fragile and needed to be protected.

The NLD, which has a history of boycotting what it saw as flawed political processes inspired by the former military dictatorship, has yet to confirm whether or not it will run in the election. The party says it will wait for the date to be set.

Suu Kyi, reiterated concern on Tuesday that unrest could hinder voting, but did not state any specific threat.

(Writing by Martin Petty and Timothy McLaughlin; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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