‘People’s petition’ submitted to Myanmar parliament

YANGON: A petition calling for the removal of an effective military veto over constitutional amendments in Myanmar has been submitted to parliament, the opposition said Thursday.
The committee that organised the signature-raising campaign said today that the petition was submitted yesterday, along with the nearly 5 million signatures gathered nationwide to support it. “Five million signatures were sent to parliament Wednesday,” said a statement from Nyan Win, spokesman for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).
It was accompanied by a statement urging MPs to act in accord with the ideals of Parliament, remarks made by Lower House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann, and the public’s desire to amend Section 436. That section requires that more than 75 per cent of MPs support any amendment to the charter before it can pass Parliament. The 2008 charter also gives 25 per cent Parliament’s seats to the military. National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi has described the campaign as “a breakthrough for democracy in Myanmar”.
The signature campaign, organised by NLD and the Peace and Open Society headed by student leaders of the 1988 uprising, calls for changes to Article 436, which grants an effective veto to the military. Amendments can only occur with the support of more than 75 per cent of lawmakers. The constitution written in 2008 under the former military junta, allocates 25 per cent of the seats for military members who are appointed without election. “Without removing the military veto, any important charter change that they don’t want could not be achieved,” student leader Ko Ko Gyi said last week. As the petition has no legal effect on parliament, lawmakers could ignore the effort, Ko Ko Gyi said. “But I believe parliament will pay attention to the petition,” he said.
The committee that organised the signature-raising campaign comprised members of the opposition NLD party and 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, a group of former student activists that played a pivotal role in advocating for democracy during the 1988 uprising and resisting the subsequent military crackdown on pro-democracy activists.
The signature campaign covered 330 townships across the country. On August 6, the NLD said a total of 4,941,998 people from 308 townships had signed the petition. An additional 1,200 signatures arrived from the countryside and the number was revised upward on August 8.
The campaign took place in every township of Kayah, Kayin, Mon and Rakhine states, as well as Ayeyawady, Bago, Magway, Sagain, Taninthayi and Yangon regions. All but one of Mandalay Region’s 38 townships were included. Twelve of Kachin State’s 21 townships were included. Eight of nine townships in Chin State were included and 26 of 54 townships in Shan State were included.
Signature from townships in some states could not be gathered due to conflict, particularly in Shan and Kachin states. Transportation and communication problems also hampered the collection of signatures in remote areas, particularly in Chin State. Campaigners distributed flyers, and held mass rallies and public discussions on Section 436 by NLD and 88 Generation leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi.
As the campaign progressed from May 27 to July 19 more political groups, artists, writers and civic organistions joined in. Government officials and members of the armed forces signed the petition, NLD members said, adding that some activists faced charges for participating in the campaign. Thura Shwe Mann said Parliament’s MPs had a responsibility to respect the people’s desire, even if it could not affect the decisions made by the committee to amend the charter.

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