Ethnic parliamentarians on Thursday voted for Arakanese lawmaker Aye Maung to represent them at a proposed six-member roundtable meeting on constitutional reform, but neither the president nor the commander-in-chief have yet indicated whether they will take part.
On Tuesday, Burma’s Parliament passed an urgent proposal requesting a meeting between President Thein Sein, speakers Shwe Mann and Khin Aung Myint, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and an ethnic representative.
The proposed high-level talks, originally slated to take place on Friday, come one month since the government held a 14-member roundtable meeting in late October, led by President Thein Sein. Those discussions were broader in scope and did not result in any discernable progress.
Pe Than, a Lower House representative of Myay Pone in Arakan State, said lawmakers had approved the proposal for high-level charter talks “because they have seen the deadlock in amending the 2008 Constitution.”
In mid-November, military representatives in Parliament signaled they would not support constitutional change and on Nov. 18, Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann said that any changes to the military-drafted charter could only be enacted after next year’s general elections.
Pe Than said that MPs believe a high-level meeting is the only way to create a platform for constitutional change, since any attempts to put amendments to a vote in parliament would be blocked by military and Union Solidarity and Development Party parliamentarians.
Independent political commentator Yan Myo Thein told The Irrawaddy that key political players should meet to create an agenda for change.
“The meeting should be started with just a few leaders from the government, the military, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic representatives. In this way, it would be more effective and then after they have established basic agreements, they could expand for wider participation.”
Pe Than said that Thursday’s vote by ethnic lawmakers reflected their support for the talks. Five of 14 ethnic parliamentarians voted in favor of Aye Maung while Wa parliamentarian Sai Pao Nut polled second, with one less vote.
The legislative sector’s move seems less likely to win the support of the executive. Presidential spokesperson and information minister Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy that the proposal was “incomplete” and “not pragmatic” as it “left out other ethnic leaders and ethnic political parties.” He questioned whether the single ethnic representative could effectively represent all ethnic nationalities at the meeting.
Yan Myo Thein also suggested that ethnic representatives be drawn from outside the Parliament, including from ethnic armed groups. He said that the nomination of Aye Maung, who was put forward as a vice presidential candidate after the 2010 elections, was “politically suitable.”
Ye Htut did not indicate whether Thein Sein would join the talks, saying that he had not discussed the issue with the president.
Aung San Suu Kyi and her party have long called for a sit-down between herself, the president, the military chief and the parliamentary speaker to discuss the issue of charter reform. On Tuesday, she told reporters that she did not oppose the parliament’s latest proposal for talks.
"Miss Sein Gay Har Beautiful Footstep Owner 2014" Model Contest was held at the Hledan Sein Gay Har Center in Yangon on November 22, 2014 for the fifth time. Shin Wai Naing Oo, contestant number 12, won the Miss Beautiful Footstep Owner 2014 title award. Myat Eaindra Htet and Pwint Thit Tin Mon were awarded 1st Runner Up & 2nd Runner Up Prize respectively. Photos by Tin SUN
MANDALAY — Political parties in Mandalay called on the government on Wednesday to end its armed conflicts in Burma’s ethnic regions and put more of an effort into the country’s peace process.
At a demonstration led by nine political parties including the National Democratic Force (NDF), National Unity Party (NUP) and local civil society groups, protestors spoke out against a recent Burma Army attack in Kachin State that killed 23 ethnic rebel cadets and injured 20 others, saying the incident indicated a lack of resolve in the government’s purported desire to reach a sustainable peace with Burma’s numerous ethnic rebel groups.
“In this time of transition, peace is vital for the country,” said Myint Oo, secretary of the NDF’s Mandalay Division branch. “Since there’s no peace yet in the ethnic regions, we would like to urge the government and everyone involved in armed conflicts to emphasize peace and the negotiation process as soon as possible.”
Protestors also urged the government and ethnic armed groups’ leaders to end their fighting for the sake of stability and development in the country’s ethnic hinterlands.
“Talking about peace only at roundtable meetings is not the way to sustainable peace in the country,” read a message from the Federal Union Party, which also participated in Wednesday’s protest. “If we really want peace, we need to stop fighting and build back the trust that has broken down over the last 60 years. If we keep fighting each other, there will be no trust and no peace.”
Neither the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (UNDP) nor Burma’s largest opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), participated in Wednesday’s protest.
The nationalist monk U Wirathu spoke at the demonstration, which drew more than 400 people.
Wirathu said ending ethnic conflict depended on both the government and rebel armed groups.
“Both parties need to stop fighting,” he said. “Battles require both parties to be involved. If there’s armed conflict, the most affected people are the local civilians. Since there have been battles in the ethnic regions, the regions have been left behind and are underdeveloped. I would like to ask both parties to stop their gun battles and push for peace for the sake of the people and development.”
The demonstrators also called on the government and rebel leaders to return to the negotiating table for peace talks that have bogged down in recent months.
“There were several meetings for peace and a [nationwide] ceasefire but the process has stalled—the answer to peace is still in our dreams. Since it is important for national reconciliation, peace and stability of the country, we would like to urge the government and its troops to put more emphasis on trust-building, which is vital for the peace process,” said Nan Shwe Kyar, general secretary of the Wuntharnu National League for Democracy party, who added that the recent shelling in Laiza, Kachin State, had affected trust between the government and Kachin rebels.
“Because of that incident, the trust that had been built back during peace talks in recent years is broken. The government needs to build it back for the safety and development of women, children and elders, who are most affected by the civil wars in conflict-wracked areas,” she said.
RANGOON — Rice prices have pulled back from a sharp slump in recent days, amidst a predicted rise in exports and expectations that recent heavy rains could reduce the size of this year’s crop.
Prices bottomed out at US$280 per 100 baskets (about 1.5 tons) in the middle of October, rising to $380 per 100 baskets this week.
“Due to the heavy rains earlier this month, traders thought there might be a rice shortage in the market,” Chit Khaing, the chairman of the Myanmar Rice Federation (MRF), told The Irrawaddy on Friday. “That’s why the slumped rice prices have been increasing in the last few days.”
Aung Chan, the owner of a 30-acre paddy field in Rangoon’s Mingaladon Township, said that his paddy production will be less than last year’s yields once he finishes harvesting next month.
“I expect that the paddy prices won’t decrease next month due to the heavy rain—there will be less production, which will increase prices,” he said.
The collapse in rice prices came right before the start of the harvest season, threatening a severe impact on the livelihood of farmers, already one of the poorest sectors of Burmese society.
Soe Tun, the chairman of the Myanmar Farmers Association, said that his organization had enacted a scheme to buy paddies at a fixed price above the market rate to alleviate an impending production crisis—a plan that has now been rendered unnecessary by the boost to prices.
“Prices have increased about 10 percent in the last week [from 350,000 to 380,000K], so farmers will be happy, they won’t want to sell us with our prices,” he said.
China has taken steps this year to regulate the import of Burmese rice, demanding a trade agreement guaranteeing that most rice is milled and meets certain quality and hygiene requirements.
As a result, warehouses have retained higher than usual stockpiles of rice, depressing prices to the levels seen last month.
China has long been one of Burma’s biggest customers for rice, much of which is harvested in Burma’s Irrawaddy Delta and shipped over land borders in Shan and Kachin States.
A bilateral agreement on rice standards would allow the MRF to legally export some 200,000 tons of milled rice to China, starting from early January next year. At the same time, the MRF has attempted bolster the market by encouraging a swift conclusion to the export deal.
“We’ve been encouraging to China to buy as much as earlier than January to pull up prices,” Chit Khaing said.
In October, the Myanmar Rice Federation reached an agreement with Indian rice traders to supply two states in northeastern India with 240,000 tons of rice per year at US$400 per ton, although Burmese traders will incur all costs for transporting the goods to the Indian border.
The tender for the Indian export deal will close on Nov. 26. Anticipation over the commencement of trade, along with the impending Chinese deal, has buoyed the market rate for rice this month, according to Soe Tun.
Despite the recent increase, rice prices are still well below the 2013 season rate of US$400-450 per 100 baskets.
Chit Khaing said he expects rice prices to rise to 2013 levels once export arrangements with China are finalized.
“A delegation will come here soon to check the quality of export rice to China,” he said. “I hope that paddy prices will increase as soon as the China and Myanmar bilateral trade agreement is a success.”
According to recent MRF figures, Burma exported 900,000 tons of rice to China, Europe, Japan and South Africa from April to October. The government has set an export target of 1.5 million tons for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
The press launch of Wyne Lay, Miss Myanmar World 2014, was organized at the Chatrium Hotel in Yangon on November 13, 2014. Wyne Lay will leave Yangon for London on November 20, 2014 to represent Myanmar at Miss World Pageant 2014 which will be held on December 14, 2014 at ExCeL London in London, UK. Photos by Wai Yan
RANGOON — Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann has nixed hopes for swift reforms to controversial electoral laws, telling a press conference on Tuesday that any changes to the military-drafted 2008 Constitution can only be enacted after next year’s general election.
The comments from the Union Solidarity and Development Party representative and potential presidential contender came a day after most military lawmakers rejected amending Articles 59(f) and 436 of the Constitution, which bar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting the presidency and give the military a veto over constitutional amendments.
“We will finalize [constitutional debates] on November 25,” Shwe Mann said. “The draft laws submitted by Union Parliament will be decided and approved next week in parliament.”
“Some changes will need a referendum, which will be held in May 2015. Where this results in amending the Constitution, they will be approved after the 2015 election.”
The Burmese Constitution has onerous barriers to change. An amendment must have the support of more than 75 percent of both houses of Parliament, giving the military, with a reserved allocation of 25 percent of all parliamentary seats, an effective veto over any proposal.
Many provisions of the Constitution, including Articles 59(f) and Article 436, require any accepted proposal to then be put to a nationwide referendum, with the amendment carried if it receives a yes vote from more than half of the eligible voter population.
Chapter 12 of the Constitution, which details the process for the proposal and adoption of constitutional amendments, does not specify a timeframe for the Parliament to ratify successful amendments.
Khu Oo Reh, general secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council, told The Irrawaddy that delaying constitutional amendments until 2016 will undermine the integrity of the next election.
“If none of articles of the 2008 Constitution can be amended and the 2015 election is held based on the current Constitution, it will be very hard to expect that the election will be a free and fair one,” he said.
Shwe Mann has defended the decision by stressing the need for administrative continuity, arguing that the proximity of the next election precludes any radical changes to electoral laws or the structure of government administration.
“It’s impossible… the current administrative landscape will be changed if amendments are enacted during this [parliamentary] term,” he said.
Min Thu, a Lower House lawmaker for the National League for Democracy, said that he agrees in principle that any proposals for constitutional amendments can only be practically implemented after the next election.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy, Min Thu stated his belief that Article 59(f) can still be repealed in the first parliamentary session following the election, subject to a successful passage through parliament and approval in a national plebiscite, allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to assume the presidency after 2015.
NAYPYIDAW — World leaders will descend on the surreal capital of Burma this week, an unthinkable event when it was run by a brutal military junta for almost half a century.
Shortly after winning a one-sided election four years ago, the army veterans stunned the world, ushering in a wave of liberal change that convinced the United States and other Western powers that Burma was no longer the pariah it once was.
But this week’s coming out party for the purpose-built city of Naypyidaw, secretly raised from rice paddies by the junta, comes amid mounting concern that the reforms that opened Burma to international engagement have gone into reverse.
The military still holds substantial political power, a peace process to end conflict with ethnic minorities is stalled, and the persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority faces a humanitarian crisis in western Arakan State.
US President Barack Obama is expected to tackle those issues in a meeting with Burma’s President Thein Sein during the summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the East Asia Forum on Nov. 12 and 13.
“We have real concerns, and we have expressed them repeatedly about circumstances in Rakhine [Arakan] State, and the transition to democracy, which is a challenging one,” Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice said on Friday.
“And we will raise those concerns very directly.”
China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will also visit the eerily quiet city where Burma’s leaders and powerful retired generals have isolated themselves from the largest city and former capital, Rangoon.
Competing territorial claims between China and four Asean nations will form an undercurrent of tension at the meetings.
Maritime spats peaked this year in May, when China sent a giant oil drilling rig to waters claimed by Vietnam. The move sparked deadly anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam, which along with the Philippines has sought closer US ties to counter what they see as China’s aggression.
Philippines President Benigno Aquino will address that this week, a member of his delegation told Reuters, describing it as the “most pressing security issue facing our region today.”
For all the blunt backroom talk, the Asean grouping is reluctant to antagonize China and a draft of the chairman’s concluding statement, obtained by Reuters, shows little change since foreign ministers met in August.
“We expressed our concerns over recent developments in the South China Sea, which have increased tensions,” the draft said, urging all parties to “exercise self-restraint, refrain from the use or threat of force, and avoid actions which could undermine peace and stability.”
The South China Sea row is so divisive that a summit in Cambodia in 2012 failed to issue a final communique. Despite being a relative novice to the international stage, Burma has so far managed to avoid such an embarrassing breakdown.
NAYPYIDAW — During his visit to the Burmese capital Naypyidaw this week, US President Obama is expected to stay in a hotel managed by the Kempinski Hotel Group and owned by two Burmese conglomerates, a minister has told a local news outlet.
The Messenger News Journal on Monday reported the choice of accommodation by the president and attributed the information to Deputy Minister of Hotels and Tourism Sai Kyaw Ohn, who was quoted as saying, “Now they [US Secret Service] are solely taking care of the hotel’s security, so we don’t need to help them a lot. Security has been tightened.”
Obama is expected to arrive in Naypyidaw on Wednesday to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and East Asia summits, which Burma is hosting this year as Asean chair.
There was a heavy security presence around the hotel on Tuesday, but hotel management declined to confirm the report about the president’s visit when contacted by The Irrawaddy.
In August, the Switzerland-headquartered Kempinski Group announced it would open the 140-room, five-star Kempinski Hotel—reportedly the most expensive of all hotels in the capital—on time for the Asean meeting this week. At the time, hotel management said there were two rooms available with bullet proof glass that could accommodate visiting government leaders.
The Kempinski Hotel was built on 50-acre premises and funded by local conglomerates Kanbawza (KBZ) Group and Jewellery Luck Company, which have invested US$45 million total in its construction, taking 50 percent shares each.
KBZ Group owns one of Burma’s largest banks and also has business interests in the domestic airline industry; it was founded in the 1990s in the Shan State capital Taunggyi and is owned by Aung Ko Win. Jewellery Luck Company was founded in 1995 and has business interests in trade, hotels, timber logging and mining.
Unlike dozens of other Burmese firms, KBZ and Jewellery Luck are not on the US Treasury sanction list. US Secretary of State John Kerry caused a stir in August when his delegation booked into the Lake Garden Hotel, owned by blacklisted Zaw Zaw’s Max Myanmar group. The State Department said at the time that Kerry had done nothing wrong.
Kempinski is one of four international hotel chains in the capital. United States’ Hilton Hotels, Singapore’s Parkroyal and France’s Accor Group all opened luxury hotels in Naypyidaw in partnerships with local business conglomerates ahead of the Asean meeting.
Work on Burma’s new capital began about a decade ago on orders of the former military junta, which enlisted the help of the country’s tycoons to construct government buildings and hotels in the capital. To this day, the government encourages investment in the sprawling but largely empty city that is home to mostly government officials.
The Fundraising Variety Concert for Myanmar U-19 Soccer Team, FIFA U20 World Cup 2015 (New Zealand) Qualifier, was staged at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon on November 2, 2014. Myanmar well-known Film Stars performed "Lu Kyun Ball" or "Offside" Drama Show. Popular Signers: Sai Sai Kham Hlaing, Rzarni, Zaw Paing, Wai La, G Latt, Tun Eaindra Bo, Chit Thu Wai, Ni Ni Khin Zaw, Bobby Soxer, Eaint Chit and other also performed for this Fundraising event. Photos by Wai Yan