The Constitutional Amendment Implementing Committee has decided not to focus on changing the process of amending the constitution, members have told The Myanmar Times.

Pyithu Hluttaw. Image via Creative CommonsPyithu Hluttaw. Image via Creative Commons

The decision not to focus on section 436(a) was taken at the committee’s fourth meeting, a number of committee members confirmed on condition of anonymity.

“We reached agreement on this after arguing severely,” the member said.

MPs who attended the meeting said military representatives, who hold seven of the 31 positions on the committee, proposed keeping section 436(a) as it currently stands. The section gives the military, which holds 25 percent of all seats, an effective veto over constitutional change, as it states that amendments need the support of at least 75pc of MPs to be approved.

Section 436(a) lists sections of the constitution in which a 75pc majority and approval at a national referendum are required for an amendment to be passed, while under section 436(b) all other sections require only a 75pc majority.

The military MPs argued against reducing the 75pc threshold on the grounds that they plan to gradually reduce the number of seats assigned to military personnel, although they gave no indication when this would begin taking place.

They argued that amending section 436(a) could result in the threshold for constitutional change being set too low.

“They want to keep the 75pc requirement whether military MPs are in the parliament or not. Finally, we accepted the idea that if we reduce it below 75pc some may keep trying to reduce it further,” one committee member said.

“Instead, the military MPs said they can negotiate with us to reach an agreement when MPs put forward proposed amendments … It is very important that we negotiate with them so that they accept the points that we want to change,” he said.

However, some MPs who are not on the committee said they did not accept the idea. They argued that this system would still leave constitutional change in the hands of the military.

“If we don’t amend the 75 pc rule, we will always have to discuss [changes] with military representatives. I think the process will be delayed if they do not change the 75pc rule and we will always fail if the military don’t agree with us,” said Pyithu Hluttaw representative Daw Dwe Bu.

“In my personal opinion it would be better if we reduce it to 60pc or even 70pc because we wouldn’t need to negotiate with them on every single point that we want to change.”

On February 16, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) released a statement saying it would cooperate with the 88 Generation to amend section 436. While the statement did not reveal the nature of the cooperation, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said it was important to study how constitutions can be amended in other countries.

However, opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters on March 13 that the committee should start first with sections of the constitution that are easy to change. “It’s not sure we can get 100pc of what we want. The final decision will rest with the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw,” she said.

The Constitutional Amendment Implementing Committee was formed on February 3 to implement the findings of a 108-member review committee that submitted its final report to parliament on January 31.

On February 18, Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann instructed the committee to submit a bill to amend the constitution to parliament no less than six months before elections scheduled for late 2015.

The speaker told MPs that the committee should make chapter 12 of the constitution, which outlines the process for amending the document and includes section 436, its top priority.

He also said the bill should ensure the Tatmadaw’s role conforms to democratic norms and gives more autonomy to states and regions.

In a surprise move, he also instructed them to review the process of selecting the president and two vice presidents, and to consider whether the president, vice president and Union Government ministers should have to resign from their party and as MPs if they are appointed to the government, as currently required.

Committee members said they were unsure what the implications of their recent decision to avoid section 436 would be given the speaker’s instructions.

“I’m not sure whether the decision of the committee contradicts the speaker’s guidelines,” one member said. “Whatever the committee decides, it still has to be approved by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.”