The Burmese Armed Forces has its eyes on legitimacy

Roadmap and generals

The road to legitimacy. What the Armed Forces wants and will get.

The Armed Forces has been eying for a legitimate place in the Burmese government. Now, it will get it. With the final National Convention meeting beginning tomorrow, the Constitution will soon be put to referendum.

The basic principles, adopted by the National Convention in the 1990s, are the foundation of the new constitution. Reading what it has to say, the Burmese military will play an enormous role in the new government. It will have influence in all three branches of the government, in various ways.

In the legislative branch, one-fourth of the Union Parliament will consist of MPs from the Armed Forces (Tatmadaw), selected by the Defence Services’ Commander-in-Chief. That amounts to at most 166 MPs (110 from the People’s Parliament and 56 from the National Parliament). There are no restrictions on any MP candidate being military personnel, although they cannot be from the civil service. Within the parliaments, committees on military and security affairs must consist of only Armed Forces MPs, unless civilian MPs are absolutely required.

In the executive branch, the President must have had 15 years of military experience. The President chooses and establishes as many ministries as needed, but three ministers (from the defence, security/home affairs and border affairs) are chosen by the Defence Services’ Commander-in-Chief. All three must be from the Armed Forces. They do not need to retire from military service if they are selected, while civil servants must do so in order to become ministers. Also, the president is indirectly elected through the electoral college. One-third of the college’s members are military personnel selected by the Defence Services’ Commander-in-Chief.

In the judiciary branch, power is distributed among the Supreme Court, the Courts Martial and the Constitutional Tribunal. The civilian Supreme Court (supposedly the highest court in the land) has no influence or power in the Courts Martial. The Supreme Court Chief Justice as well as associate justices must have retired from civil service, but there are no restrictions on whether they are military personnel.

It’s obvious that the military has been vying for legitimacy from the start, since the coup d’état. Now that the National Convention is almost wrapping up its affairs, the military will soon find a comfortable niche within the government, able to control what gets done and who gets what. The military has carved out power from the three branches.

Malaysia’s Bernama news wire service reported in late-June of this year:

On the National Convention scheduled to start on July 18, Syed Hamid said Malaysia hoped that Myanmar would be able to complete the constitution drafting process, get it approved and hold an election.

Bangkok’s The Nation‘s opinion section reported that in 1997:

With Thai support for Burma’s Asean membership, Chavalit [Thailand’s former PM] firmly defended the Burmese regime. He declared: “I believe the generals in the ruling SLORC will listen to me because we are friends. […]” Chavalit also assured us that the Burmese military had no plan to stay in power forever. Ten years on, the junta does not seem to be willing to give up political power any time soon. The period is certainly long enough to severely damage Burma’s democratic institutions.

Yet, that was a year after the basic principles, that had already outlined the military’s enormous power in the government was published and approved. The Burmese military may not have a plan to publicly stay in power, but it will certainly pull the strings behind the curtains. Apparently, ASEAN either does not care whether the military remains entrenched in the constitution and in the government, and wants to merely satisfy UN’s and the West’s calls for ‘democratic elections.’ It has not criticized how much the military will control, according to its constitution. Most of the focus by the West has been getting the NLD and other elected parties to participate. Ten years after the Burmese government reaffirmed its commitment to democracy, Burma remains locked in military rule. If this constitution goes to referendum and is approved, not much will change.

Even if the constitution is not approved by the people of Burma, since the junta has been known to play dirty tricks, it will probably twist the rules and get it passed.

Note: For the sake of translation purposes, Amyotha Hlutdaw to National Parliament and Pyithu Hlutdaw to People’s Parliament. The constitution uses ‘representative’ to refer to members of the parliaments, but I have chosen to abbreviate that to MP (member of parliament).

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