1988 activists demand charter change

Myanmar has a measure of democracy. Source: Wikimedia


On Monday, politicians, activists and students from across Myanmar marked the 28th anniversary of the “8888 Uprising” with a vow to continue working with the new democratic government for constitutional changes in a bid to ensure full democracy and the establishment of a federal union.

The uprising was named after the fact it occurred on August 8, 1988, and was brutally crushed by the military. It is associated with the coincidental return of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was in Burma to treat her ailing mother but was soon drawn into the political struggle.

The 2008 military-drafted constitution includes provisions ensuring the army remains a powerful political force.

“The country’s transition to democracy will not be successfully implemented without charter change,” Min Ko Naing from the Peace and Open Society said at the opening of a temporary museum to mark 8888 in Yangon.

The gathering was the first time the event had been commemorated under a civilian government.

“Therefore, we will keep working with NLD government for the amending or redrafting the military-draft constitution,” the activist said.

The 8888 Uprising saw the largest national demonstrations in Burmese history and demanded the removal of dictator General Ne Win from power.

An estimated 3,000 people, mostly students, were killed by the armed forces in the carnage that followed.

Suu Kyi and leaders of the Peace and Open Society have been pushing for amendments to the charter, which was hastily approved when the nation was still reeling from the devastating Cyclone Nargis. They want measures to respect the rights of ethnic groups to help bring peace with the country’s powerful rebel armies, which combined outnumber Myanmar’s armed forces.

Suu Kyi is currently planning a vast peace conference in Panglong, southern Shan State, to be held later this month. It is a reference to her father, independence hero Aung San, who organised the Panglong agreement in February 1947 that was due to establish a federal nation with the ethnic groups responsible for their own affairs. He was, however, assassinated before the deal could be implemented and the military coup of 1962 crushed all attempts to establish a modern democracy.

It is hoped that Panglong will result in a framework for a new constitution but some participants believe charter reform is a prerequisite to peace.

The military retains 25 per cent of seats in both parliamentary chambers, giving it a veto on any attempts to alter the constitution.

Sai Kyaw Nyunt, joint secretary of the Shan Nationalities for Democracy, a long-time ally of the NLD, said national reconciliation and the peace process would not be a success without constitutional change.

“We can’t build a federal union at all under the current constitution,” the politician said.

“We already proposed the government that talks at the upcoming peace conference should focus on how to amend the constitution.”

The government has invited all ethnic armed groups and numerous political parties, including many that failed to win a seat in last November’s historic election, to the Union Peace Conference in Panglong.