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Myanmar lawmakers debate proposals to curb military political power

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By Shoon Naing

NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – Myanmar’s parliament on Tuesday began debating amendments to the constitution aimed at reducing the military’s role in politics, amid objections from army lawmakers.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which took the reins in 2016 after an electoral landslide, is pushing for change despite a boycott of the process by military MPs, who hold a veto over amendments.

A cross-party committee has listed more than 3,700 suggested changes for debate in parliament, ranging from minor tweaks to more radical changes including removing a clause that blocks Suu Kyi from the presidency.

Military members of parliament did not participate in the opening discussion on Tuesday but said they would not disrupt the proceedings.

“We will not disturb the discussion unless there is something which is not in line with law or procedure,” Brigadier General Maung Maung told Reuters.

The constitution guarantees the army a quarter of seats in parliament, as well as control of key ministries. Change to the charter need a vote of more than 75 percent of members, giving the military an effective veto.

The NLD has proposed gradually cutting the number of military representatives in parliament over the course of 15 years, and scrapping a clause in the constitution that prevents presidential candidates who have foreign spouses or children.

Suu Kyi had two sons with her late British academic husband, Michael Aris. She rules the country in the specially created position of state counselor.

Members of parliament said they were hopeful some changes would be approved if an agreement could be reached between the upper echelons of the military and the civilian government.

“As far as I can see, the commander-in-chief of the military does not oppose constitutional amendment,” said Htoo May from the Arakan League for Democracy.

Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing said in January the army had never said it would not agree to changes, but amendments would happen when necessary.

“The military parliamentarians are opposing it bitterly, but they are just the puppets,” ruling party spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters.

“If the decision-makers make up their minds, I think it will be OK.”

The military ruled for nearly 50 years until it began stepping back from the political sphere in 2011, under the 2008 constitution it drafted to enshrine its political role.

(Reporting by Shoon Naing; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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