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Resumption of Myanmar’s Constitution Convention

Updated On: Sep 05, 2006

Myanmar looks set to resume its constitution convention in October later this year.

Although the constitution seems to be in perennial state of being drawn up, the Myanmar government is coming under increasing international and regional pressure to ensure that there is at least some progress.

The Secretary of the Myanmar Peace and Development Council Lieutenant- General Thein Sein announced that the Convention which was adjourned on 31 January 2006 would be resumed in the second week of October this year. According to Xinhua News, the upcoming convention is likely to tackle the issue of the relationship between Hluttaws (the parliament), fundamental rights and responsibilities of the citizens and the role of the military.

Nonetheless, this announcement of resumption of the constitutional convention is not likely to be greeted with much enthusiasm in the United States and European Union for an obvious reason- the National League for Democracy (NLD) which won the elections in 1990 is not a participant of the constitution writing process. More importantly, Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest.

The United States has already written to the incoming Greek presidency of the UN Security Council that it wants the issue of Myanmar on the Security Council’s agenda. The US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton’s statement, “We think it is time the Council faces up to its responsibilities” did not, however, automatically suggest that the US would push for a UN resolution. The US is likely to face challenges from Russia and China who had been resistant to even informal discussions on Myanmar in the past. However, Bolton seems confident that “significant majority” of the council members support the move.  The EU has also made known that it would take up the issue of human rights violation in Myanmar at the coming Asia-Europe Summit in September.

Myanmar has come under increasing pressure not just from the US and the EU but also its neighbours, ASEAN. On 23 August, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirayuda was reportedly to have said that the ASEAN leaders had told Myanmar at a summit in July not to expect help from ASEAN if the US raised the issue of Myanmar at the UN Security Council. On 24 August, Musa Hitam, the chairman of the ASEAN Eminent Person Group (EPG) tasked to look into the drawing of an ASEAN Charter, said that the Charter might include a mechanism to expel or impose sanction on member states. Malaysia Prime Minister Badawi called for an “updated” principle of non-interference given Myanmar’s stubbornness. Even the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has said that he would work together with the other ASEAN members to resolve the Myanmar issue.

However, the two key states in managing the issue of Myanmar, China and India, have yet to make their stand clear. The Jakarta Post reported the call by an Indonesian academic, Rizal Sukma from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta for China “to assume a role as a regional power instead of pursuing narrow interests in the region.” One of the issues that the Chinese would need to tackle was Myanmar.  Rizal made this call in a seminar organised by CSIS.

Both China and India are fighting over the rights of the gas reserves in A1 and A3 Blocks in Myanmar. Thailand and South Korea are also in the race for the rights to these reserves. With their rapid expanding economies, it is doubtful as to whether both China and India would be willing to push the Myanmar military towards greater political liberty. The resumption of the constitution process might just be sufficient for both India and China to declare that there has been a positive development in Myanmar and hence justify the continuation of their turning-a-blind eye attitude towards the problems in Myanmar.  

Sources:

The Gathering Mild Rebuke; Myanmar (The Economist, 2 September 2006)

US Wants Issue of Burma on Security Council Agenda (Financial Times, 2 September 2006)

Myanmar Constitutional National Convention To Resume in October (Xinhua General News, 2 September 2006)

US Asks UN Security Council to Debate Myanmar Issues (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 1 September 2006)

Feature: EU Hangs Tough on Misbehaving Myanmar (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 1 September 2006)

China Urged to Act Responsibly (The Jakarta Post, 1 September 2006)

ASEM to Focus on Energy Security, North Korea at Helsinki Summit: Envoy (Japan Economic Newswire, 1 September 2006)

Cambodia to Join ASEAN In Resolving Myanmar Issue (Thai Press Reports, 1 September 2006)

India, China Face-To-Face Again, This Time For Gas Reserves in Myanmar (Financial Express, 1 September 2006)