Ruling Party Against Amendments

But prodemocracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi insists constitutional changes are critical.

A top official of Burma’s military-backed ruling party says it is not keen on making any immediate adjustments to the country’s constitution, which has been criticized as undemocratic by rights groups.

“It took many years of discussion to write the 2008 constitution,” Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) General Secretary Htay Oo told RFA in an interview Thursday.

“After some time, if something is inappropriate, then we must change it. But currently, I don't see that much to change,” he said of the charter, enacted four years ago under former military dictator Senior General Than Shwe and that gives the military wide-ranging powers.

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who heads the National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party, responded to Htay Oo by saying that the Burmese people should determine whether or not the constitution should be amended.

“Not everybody will have the same opinion. Those who wrote the constitution did not write it with the intention of amending it,” she told Burma’s Voice Weekly Journal Friday.

“We want to change things that are not benefitting the people, as we see it.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, who will contest in April by-elections, said during a tour of southern Burma Sunday that if she was elected to parliament her party would “work to repeal repressive laws” in the country.

Entrenched military

President Thein Sein has launched several democratic reforms in Burma since his nominally civilian government took power from the military junta last March, including dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and the release of several hundred political prisoners.

But the country remains tightly governed with a constitution that is impossible to amend without the backing of the military.

Any constitutional amendment would require 75 percent of votes in parliament. But 25 percent of parliamentary seats are now reserved for active duty military officers and together, the military, and a military-backed party control more than 80 percent of the seats.

In addition, the charter provides a blanket amnesty to Than Shwe and all members of the junta for any actions carried out in an official capacity.

According to Section 445 in the chapter "Transitory Provisions" of the constitution, "No proceedings shall be instituted against the said [junta] or any member thereof or any member of the Government, in respect of any act done in the execution of their respective duties."

Experts have referred to the constitution as a "general jail-free card” for all officials in the previous junta administration.

Htay Oo said he welcomed the NLD’s participation in the upcoming elections.

“We accept a multi-party system and we are the ones who have worked to reach this current situation,” he said.

“It’s not only Aung San Suu Kyi’s party—we welcome [the participation of] any party as long as they are working together for the good.”

UN envoy visit

The USDP’s reluctance to amend Burma’s constitution is likely to be noted by UN Special Envoy to Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, who visited Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison on Friday morning and met with Aung San Suu Kyi in the afternoon.

Quintana, who is visiting Burma on a six-day fact-finding mission, told reporters that he will try to push for constitutional amendments.

The envoy also met with officials Friday in the capital of Naypyidaw.

Reports said Quintana planned to visit the ethnic Karen and Mon states in order to observe human rights conditions during his trip. Those ethnic groups recently signed ceasefire agreements with the Burmese government after decades of fighting for autonomy.

Rights groups have accused the Burmese military of carrying out a brutal counterinsurgency campaign in ethnic minority areas involving the rape, torture, and murder of villagers.

Quintana had been a vocal critic of the previous military regime and previously proposed a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity that have allegedly been committed by the Burmese army.

The envoy last visited Burma in August last year, when he also met with Aung San Suu Kyi and visited Insein Prison. He will leave the country on Sunday.

Reported by Nyan Win Aung for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.