November 7, 2010

As Burma’s generals today hold fake elections, Burma Campaign UK publishes a new briefing detailing how Burma’s generals have brought in a new constitution which sidelines Parliament and makes it impossible for MPs in the new Parliament to introduce any genuine democratic reforms.

• There is no requirement for a single member of Burma’s new government to be elected in elections on 7th November.
• There will be a Presidential, not Parliamentary form of government.
• The President must come from the military, either a former or serving soldier.
• The President is not accountable to Parliament.
• Government ministers are not accountable to Parliament.
• Real democratic reforms require constitutional reform, which is impossible without the military agreeing to it.

The new briefing is available at:

Real power will lie not with Parliament and MPs, but rather with the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services, and a new National Defense and Security Council (NDSC). Eight of the eleven positions will be either serving or former military men, or chosen by the military. Two more will be chosen by a Parliament controlled by the military, and the final position chosen by a serving or former soldier.

• The Military is not accountable to the President or the Parliament. It sets its own budget, and runs its own affairs independently.
• The Military decides who the Home Affairs Minister, Defense Minister, and Border Affairs Ministers are.
• The Military can take military action against civilians in Burma without approval of Parliament or the President. Current military attacks against ethnic civilians in Burma are so serious the United Nations Burma human
rights expert has called for a UN inquiry into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Military has ensured it has multiple options for blocking any attempt by Parliament to introduce democratic reforms.

• Rigged elections with severe restrictions on political activities ensure pro-military parties have a majority in Parliament.
• 25% percent of seats in Parliament are reserved for the military, ensuring the required vote of over 75% of MPs for constitutional change is impossible without military consent.
• Even if all elected MPs and some soldiers did vote to change the constitution, the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services can legally take control of the country and ignore the vote.

“Under Burma’s new constitution it is impossible for there to be democratic change unless the military agree, which was the position before the elections,” said Zoya Phan, International Coordinator at Burma Campaign UK. “The whole election is a giant con, a diversion from a new constitution legalising dictatorship.”

It has been argued that while the current Parliament may be full of pro-regime parties and soldiers, in future elections over the next 5-15 years this may change. Even if one was to accept that that for 15 years or more the people of Burma can continue to suffer appalling human rights abuses, including rape, torture, arbitrary executions and other acts constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity, this argument still ignores the reality of the situation in Burma. The military have a constitutional veto over democratic reform, now and in 15 years time.

Even if by some miracle future elections in 2015 or 2020 elections were free and fair, and pro-regime parties lost all their seats, the military, by having 25 percent of seats in Parliament, still have a veto over constitutional democratic change.

Even if miracles became even more abundant, and a handful of soldiers were willing to vote with all the elected officials to reform the constitution, and those soldiers were not replaced by the military before the vote, the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services can constitutionally take full control of the country if he decided such reforms are a threat to national security or national solidarity.

Once these details of the constitution are examined, it becomes clear why the National League for Democracy has decided not to take part.

“Those arguing that over the long term Parliament could be a forum for political change are in fact depending on a single factor, that at some point the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services will decide to hand over power,” said Zoya Phan. “A strategy that depends on crossing our fingers and wishing for a liberal in military clothing to somehow become Commander-in-Chief is simply not credible. We need to see a revived and high level effort by the United Nations to secure negotiations between the dictatorship, Burma’s democracy movement, and genuine ethnic representatives, which will lead to real change. The UN has said this is the way forward. It is time to make it happen.”

The new briefing is available at:


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