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Burmese Election Commission Accused of Bias Over Suu Kyi Warnings

  • Gabrielle Paluch

Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech calling for the amendment of the 2008 Constitution at a rally in Boseinman Stadium in Rangoon, May 17, 2014

Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech calling for the amendment of the 2008 Constitution at a rally in Boseinman Stadium in Rangoon, May 17, 2014

International rights groups are questioning the independence of Burma's election commission, after it accused opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi of speaking in violation of the constitution at public rallies. Her party, the National League for Democracy, has been urging the people to test parliament, and petition for constitutional change.

Aung San Suu Kyi has taken a more politically aggressive tone at campaign rallies in recent months, coming out strong against the military’s role in politics and launching petitions to change the constitution.

One key proposal advocates changing the parliament’s heavy tilt in favor of the military. The constitution reserves 25% of parliamentary seats for the military, and any change to the constitution's charter requires a 75% majority. This gives the military an effective veto over any changes.

Last month, the country’s election commission took note of Suu Kyi’s campaigning and issued a formal warning letter accusing her of speaking outside the bounds of the constitution, which requires parliamentarians to "abide by and uphold" the constitution.

National League for Democracy spokesperson and lawyer Nyan Win said the election commission is acting beyond its powers and its accusation misrepresents her comments.

"We want the army role in the parliament to reduce -- this is our will," Nyan Win said. " But she did not say that in the rally."

As Suu Kyi publicly campaigns for her proposals, President Thein Sein has responded saying that before the country changes the constitution, the government should first complete peace talks with ethnic groups and strike a unilateral ceasefire. The NLD opposes this view.

New York-based international rights group Human Rights Watch this week issued a statement asking the election commission to immediately cease its intimidation of Suu Kyi and her party.

Asia deputy director Phil Robertson says the election commission has accused Suu Kyi of violating electoral rules that do not yet exist, and the comments demonstrate a military bias of an ostensibly independent electoral body.

"The political reality is that there's a government within a government. And that government within the government is the Burmese military," Robertson noted. "The Burmese military have done nothing to reform themselves to step back from the powers they've acquired under the 2008 constitution, and have essentially unlimited ability through the likes of former army general Tin Aye the chair of the electoral commission, to influence the 2015 elections in a significant way."

Robertson also pointed out that the 2008 constitution was drafted by the military, and "jammed through" in a referendum deemed unfair by observers.

More rallies are planned for the rest of the month in states home to ethnic minorities, including in the capital of Rakhine state, Sittwe.
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