BANGKOK – Myanmar’s parliament has blocked a bid by the party of leader Aung San Suu Kyi to reduce the role of the military in politics, almost a decade into a troubled democratic transition.
In the first day of voting on a series of proposed constitutional amendments, lawmakers on Tuesday vetoed changes backed by the ruling party that would have altered the 2008 charter drafted by the former ruling military junta.
The vote was the climax of a year of fierce debates between MPs as the civilian government attempted to reform the constitution and reduce the military’s stranglehold on parliament.
The country is gearing up for elections likely to be held later this year, only the second since outright military rule came to an end.
But the military still wields considerable power, appointing three key ministers — defense, border and home affairs.
The rejected amendments would have gradually reduced the number of military MPs over a period of 15 years and abolished a section that names the commander-in-chief of the defense services as the “supreme commander of all armed forces.”
The constitution guarantees military members of parliament a quarter of the seats in the legislature. Any changes to the charter require the approval of more than three quarters of lawmakers, giving the army an effective veto.
Lawmakers also rejected removing the word “disciplined” from the definition of the country’s political system as a “genuine, disciplined multiparty democratic system.”
But they approved an amendment that would allow civil servants to belong to political parties.
MP Aung Thein, from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said his party had anticipated the loss but had a duty to live up to its pledges to voters ahead of its landslide victory in 2015.
“We would like the people to know we tried,” he said.
Emotions have been at fever pitch on both sides, with rallies of both nationalists supporting the military and Suu Kyi’s followers calling for reform.
Nobel laureate Suu Kyi has been under pressure to show progress on constitutional reform — seen as a major stumbling block to democratic hopes — ahead of a general election expected later this year.
She took power in 2016 after a landslide election win, vowing to continue democratic reforms that began in 2011 and end the country’s long-running civil wars.
Since then, the administration has come under foreign pressure over a 2017 military crackdown against the Rohingya minority, as well as escalating ethnic conflict.
Myanmar has been accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice in the Hague but denies the charges, saying it was carrying out a legitimate campaign against Rohingya militants who attacked police posts.
Voting on other proposed amendments will continue until March 20, although analysts say the military veto means they are unlikely to pass.
Key sections the NLD aim to reform include one that blocks Suu Kyi from the presidency on account of her foreign-born children, who are British citizens.