Posted in Legislative Analysis, Political Institutions on Jan 22, 2020

The matter of amending the Constitution dominated Hluttaw proceedings in 2019 and raised a number of controversies. A Joint Committee on Amending the 2008 Constitution led by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party was formed, and confronted with this, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and army representatives submitted five amendment bills of their own. In the upcoming 15th regular session, the Committee will submit its constitutional amendment bills.

Joint Committee on Amending the 2008 Constitution

The Committee’s formation can be traced back to an urgent motion to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw by NLD MP U Aung Kyi Nyunt. It was formed comprising 45 members on 19th February 2019 and received 3766 suggestions to amend/revoke/add clauses to the Constitution. In the course of drafting the bill with suggestions received, some of its members resigned.

Those Committee members who resigned blamed the committee voting system, claiming it would lead to the defeat of their suggestions. In spite of the resignations, the Committee continued with its mandated function and will submit the constitution amendment bills in the coming Pyidaungsu Hluttaw session.

Bills submitted in 2019

In 2019, five second amendment bills to the constitution were submitted and the Joint Committee on Scrutinising Second Bills Amending 2008 Constitution, which includes all of bill committee members from two Hluttaws, reviewed them. In its report it recommended that the bills should be combined in the current process of Joint Amending Committee.

The report was decided upon in a vote of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw – although the bills were not discussed.

Those who submit bill amending the Constitution Yes No Neutral
U Thein Tun (Kyaunggon Constituency) and (143) MPs 380 198 6
Dr. Maung Thin (Meiktila Constituency) and (145) MPs 376 203 4
Brigadier General Maung Maung and (144) Army MPs 362 192 0
Brigadier General Aung San Chit and (144) Army MPs 347 197 4
Sai Than Naing (Constituency No. 5, Kayin State) and (145) MPs 357 200 7

Table: Voting result on the report of Joint Scrutinising Committee

Two bills submitted by the Joint Amending Committee

Two bills which will be submitted by the Committee, representing the final outcome to emerge from the 3766 suggestions received. Those suggestions were submitted to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw on 15th of July 2019. Among them, 114 are from the NLD and the rest from other parties.

Notification No. 15/2019, which establishes the Committee, says its responsibility is to draft and submit the amendment bill to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw. Committee meetings were held 74 times and at 3/2020 meeting it was decided to submit two bills. One would amend provisions concerned with 436(a), and the other with 436(b).

Process ahead

To submit bills prepared by the Committee, a motion has to be submitted first and confirmed. Then along with the signature of 20% of all MPs, bills will be submitted to the Hluttaw.

The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Law stipulates that in the case of a necessity to closely review bills before a debate, the joint bill committee has to offer findings and commentary along with the bill. (This is the same process that happened in the case of five bills amending the Constitution in 2019.)

Possibility to amend the Constitution in the remaining Hluttaw sessions

The Speaker of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw U T Khun Myat promised in Hluttaw session to finish amending the Constitution during the current Hluttaw period. In the coming Hluttaw session timetable, posted on the Hluttaw website, the 15th regular session will be from January 27th to March 26th, the 16th session from April 27th to June 5th and the 17th session from July 13th to September 4th.

If the constitution amendment bills are submitted during this session, the joint bill committee has to submit its report. Thus, it is not easy for MPs to discuss the amendment bills during this session, suggesting the debate will start in the next session.

Since the debating time in the 16th regular session will be around 20 days, it will be difficult to finish or confirm the bills, even if time to discuss other bills is reduced. On the agenda of 16th regular session are the Union Supplementary Budget Allocation Bill and other unfinished bills.

The 17th session will be preoccupied with important other bills – Budget, National Planning and Taxation – and will be discussed and confirmed if their discussion does not conclude in the previous session. After that, the Hluttaw will be closed for the election period.

Due to this limited chance to continue the constitution amendment discussion during and after the election, to successfully amend the constitution during this Hluttaw period it must be done before or during the 17th regular session.

Constitution amendment history during the first Hluttaw

During the first Hluttaw, there was an attempt to amend the Constitution. The Law Amending the Union of Myanmar Constitution was approved on July 22nd 2015 when signed by the President. There were two steps to this, one of which was on July 25th 2013 to form the Joint Constitutional Review Committee, and then on February 3rd 2014 a Committee for Implementation of Constitutional Amendments was formed.

The initial report of the latter committee was submitted to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw on July 23rd 2014, and the working report on October 22nd 2014. 140 MPs discussed the principles and legal concepts in the report for 8 days.

On November 25th 2014, the committee chair submitted a motion to discuss the Law Amending the Union of Myanmar Constitution. The motion was confirmed and 289 MPs have signed two bills to submit them to the Hlluttaw. On June 16th 2015 the joint bill committee read the report about the bills and on July 8 2015, provisions to amend those relating to 436 (b) were confirmed by the Hluttaw.

Since provisions to amend those relating to 436(a), which includes 59(d), require a referendum, it has not happened yet.

During the first Hluttaw, there were altogether 87 MPs participating in discussion of the two constitutional amendment bills.

By Hla Myo Kyaw

Correction: We have corrected that the session for supplementary budget as 16th session which was originally described as 15th session. We regret the error. ~Editor