All shook up, but it’s not Elvis

On the contrary, it was a stout, Indian-looking lawyer who goes by the name of Ko Ni, who yesterday had gripped in suspense the more than 250 people who gathered at the Shan-Kayah-Mon Trustbuilding for Peace forum held in Taunggyi.

Although the main discussion topics were Democracy, Federalism, Peace and the 2008 constitution, several discussants including Ko Ni, who came into prominence by his recent bestseller “How to amend the constitution” had focused on what to do with the 2008 constitution.

Leaders posing for group photo at the Shan-Kayah-Mon Trustbuilding for Peace forum held in Taunggyi, 21 September 2013 (Photo: SNLD)

“Whether the 2008 constitution is democratic or not can be determined by answering two questions,” he said:

  • The extent of the participation of the people
  • To whom power was transferred to

To the first question, his answer was that it was clear the people’s wishes and participation was never taken into consideration:

  • The National Convention, held in 1993 to lay down the basic principles of the constitution, was organized by the military with its handpicked delegates
  • In 1996, a law was issued threatening people with imprisonment engaging in constitutional discussions outside the National Convention
  • During the 2008 referendum, many had chosen not to cast votes while several others voted against the draft. It was nevertheless ratified by the military saying more than 92% had voted in favor.

As for the second question, the constitution says sovereign powers belong to the people. However, it was negated by other articles:

  • 25% of military appointed representatives at all levels of the legislature
  • The Executive does not have any say in the appointment of defense, home and border affairs ministers
  • The military also conducts its independent judiciary
  • No matter how many people want to amend the constitution, it must be approved by “more than 75%” of the Union Assembly representatives

Moreover, although the constitution stipulates that the country is a Union, the Chief Minister of each state is appointed by the President and state governments are run by the home ministry. “Chapters 4, 5 and 6 need to be amended to straighten out things,” he said.

A well-known and respected writer was also criticized. “The writer says amending the constitution is unpopular but more practical,” he said, “That, on the contrary, re-writing it, though very popular, can lead to unwanted side effects. The military might decide to retract. Nevertheless, I’m for the second option.”

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, he mentioned, during his address to Thai investors in Bangkok last week, had assured them that the reforms were irreversible. “He had invited them to invest in Burma courageously,” he said. “By the same vein, I would like to invite you to present your views courageously.”
Ko Ni’s half an hour presentation was interspersed with loud applauses from his audience.

The forum is to conclude today.


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