Don’t swear in public (Myanmar/Burma)

The latest legal controversy in Myanmar has focused around the 2008 Constitution’s requirement that allow Hluttaw MPs swear an oath promising to “protect” the constitution. The NLD, which has publicly stated it intends to push for constitutional amendments, has balked at the prospect. Its members are even threatening to boycott the opening session of parliament.

NLD representatives met with the Constitutional Tribunal asking for a change in the wording of the constitution. It’s not clear whether it will. According to Irrawaddy, NLD Spokesman Nyan Win has so far only said, “[the court] did not say that they will not change” the wording of the oath. The court is not expected to act quickly on the request. However, if the government wants a face-saving way of avoiding a confrontation, the court could “reinterpret” the oath as allowing MPs to swear to “respect” rather than “protect” the constitution.
Two things about this incident strike me as curious:
First, the official English-language translation of  Schedule Four of the Constitution reads:

I ……………. do solemnly and sincerely promise that as an elected representative of the Pyithu Hluttaw/ the Amyotha Hluttaw/ the Region or State Hluttaw, I will uphold  and abide by the Constitution of the Union. I will be loyal to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and citizenry and hold always in esteem non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of sovereignty. In addition, I will carry out the responsibilities uprightly to the best of my ability.

 The highlighted section does not read that MPs must swear to protect the constitution. However, my Burmese isn’t quite good enough to appreciate the full connotations of the original Burmese word. Still, I’m wondering where the NLD is getting its translation from.

Second, to my knowledge, this is the first time somebody outside of government has petitioned the Constitutional Tribunal for constitutional review. The fact that the NLD can even approach the court is significant. The constitution grants direct standing to various government officials, but generally other cases must be forwarded by the general courts before the Constitutional Tribunal will hear them. Even if the NLD members were MPs – which they are not yet – petitions from MPs still need the support of 10% of one of the chambers. It seems however that the NLD is getting expedited and informal access to the tribunal.

I’m not quite sure how this is being justified or whether we should expect to see the court engage in more of this sort of informal consultation in the future. However, if things turn out well for the government, this might open the door to more use of the Constitutional Tribunal as a way to diffuse opposition complaints.

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