01/05/2018, 14.41
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Myanmar president calls for changes to the military-backed constitution

The charter gives the Armed Forces a quarter of seats in parliament as well as the Defense, Interior and Border Affairs portfolios. The president calls for freedom, justice, equality, and the right to self-determination for all indigenous ethnic groups. In the north of the country conflicts between rebels and the military flare up again.

Naypyitaw (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Myanmar President Htin Kyaw has called for reforms to the country's constitution. Drafted by the military in 2008, the latter gives the Armed Forces significant control over the civilian government.

In a speech yesterday to mark the country’s Independence Day, the first elected civilian to hold the office since a 1962 military coup d'état also appealed for justice for all recognised ethnic minorities within Myanmar’s federal system.

Modifying the constitution to remove the Armed Forces’ political power is one of the most serious problems facing the country, which since 2011 has been trying to emerge from almost half a century of rigid military rule.

The debate over constitutional reform ground to a halt after the assassination in January of last year of Ko Ni, a lawyer and consultant for Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).

"As we build the Democratic Federal Republic, in accordance with the results of the political dialogues, we all need to work collectively for creating a suitable Constitution," President Htin Kyaw said in his speech marking the 70th anniversary of Myanmar's independence from Great Britain.

Under the existing constitution, Aung San Suu Kyi is banned from becoming president because it excludes candidates with a foreign spouse or child. Her late husband was British, as are her two children.

The constitution also reserves a quarter of the 440 seats in parliament and several important ministries, including Defence, Interior and Border Affairs, to the Armed Forces. This gives the latter control of all security issues and an effective veto on constitutional change.

At present, Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD hold 58 per cent of seats. However, changing the constitution requires a 76 per cent majority in a parliament beholden to the military and their allies.

In his speech, Htin Kyaw also called for respect for human rights, but did not refer to the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, nor to the international condemnation it generated.

"We are working for the emergence of a democratic state based on the principles of freedom for all ethnic national races, justice, equality and right of self-determination," the president said.

"National race" is a term used in Myanmar to refer to what it categorises as indigenous ethnic groups. The Rohingya, who have traditionally lived in Rakhine, have been denied inclusion as the authorities regard them as illegal immigrants who have crossed over from Bangladesh.

Mr Htin Kyaw finally called for an end to conflict with insurgents from various ethnic minorities who have been fighting for autonomy for decades.

Clashes have flared in recent weeks between the army and guerillas in Kachin and Shan states in the north. Myanmar's minorities have long demanded self-determination within a federal system.

Some analysts believe that the military is using the various conflicts to hold on power, claiming that it is the only institution preventing the country's disintegration and the guarantor of the country’s Buddhist heritage.

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