Angry exchange between military MP, speaker mars first day of Myanmar charter debate
The Speaker of the Union Parliament on Tuesday warned Myanmar military-appointed lawmaker Major General Tin Swe Win “not to misbehave” after the officer started shouting on the floor of Parliament while lodging a complaint against a committee scrutinizing the military’s constitutional amendment proposals.
Military lawmakers began protesting against the committee’s work as soon as the Speaker announced the beginning of the debate on the charter amendment bills on Tuesday.
Early this month, the Parliament’s Joint Bill Committee scrutinized and combined five constitutional amendment bills submitted by the military and its proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) with two bills submitted by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) and the ethnic parties. It then sent them back to Parliament for discussion.
Brigadier General Aung San Chit stood up first and complained that copies of the combined proposed constitutional amendments distributed to lawmakers were missing one of his proposals. Brig-Gen Aung San Chit submitted an amendment bill in September 2019 that would see state and regional chief ministers specify the number of ministries and appoint the ministers in state and regional governments, rather than the Union President.
As the bill committee’s secretary, NLD lawmaker Dr. Myat Nyana Soe, was addressing the Speaker, Maj-Gen Tin Swe Win stood up. “The proposal was removed. Look, it is not here anymore!” he yelled, without waiting for the Speaker’s permission to make a further complaint. The usual procedure is for MPs to stand and seek permission from the Speaker to raise an objection or add to a statement. But repeated interjections following one statement are not usually allowed.
“This is the Union Parliament. Act and speak with the dignity that befits members of Parliament. If emotions are not contained, it will affect the relationship [between lawmakers]. So, don’t act in such manner and behave so aggressively. I want to remind everyone,” Speaker U T Khun Myat said.
But as the Speaker was reading a copy of the combined amendment bills to check the claim, another attempt was made from within the military lawmakers’ bloc to lodge a complaint.
“Stop that. I am talking now,” he responded, and barred the move. The Speaker then announced that one of the proposed amendments of Brig-Gen Aung San Chit had been “accidently excluded from the copies” and said it would be added and the copies redistributed to Parliament at a later date.
On several occasions in the past the Speaker has had to warn military-appointed lawmakers to act ethically and avoid abusive comments when discussing proposed charter amendments.
In November 2019, the Speaker rebuked four military-appointed lawmakers for remarks deemed insulting to Parliament, saying they could lead to a misunderstanding about the functions of the legislature. A few elected lawmakers were also rebuked over comments deemed abusive during debates over charter change in recent months.
Since the ruling NLD launched its efforts to amend the undemocratic Constitution in late January last year, the Parliament has seen no shortage of clashes between military lawmakers and their USDP allies on one side, and NLD lawmakers and other MPs who are supportive of its push for constitutional reform on the other.
Despite the resistance from the military and USDP, the NLD submitted 114 proposed amendments to the charter, including some that would reduce the proportion of parliamentary seats allocated to the military and remove the military’s effective veto over proposed constitutional changes.
Lawmakers are scheduled to discuss the constitutional amendment proposals from Feb. 25 to March 5. A total of 149 lawmakers—50 each from the military and the NLD, and 49 from ethnic parties—are allowed to take part in the debate.
On Tuesday, 15 lawmakers discussed the proposals.
Proposed amendments to the Constitution cannot pass without military support, as the Constitution requires they be approved by more than 75 percent of lawmakers, 25 percent of whom are appointed by the military.