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Politics

Suu Kyi's party picks preelection fight with Myanmar military

Doomed constitutional amendments serve as appeal to disappointed voters

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, center, and her National League for Democracy have been criticized for a lack of results since winning the 2015 general election. (Photo by Yuichi Nitta)

YANGON -- The party of Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has pushed ahead with proposed constitutional amendments that appear dead on arrival, signaling a willingness to confront the country's powerful military ahead of this year's general election.

The proposals to be voted on by lawmakers Tuesday would curtail the military's power in parliament, going to the heart of a constitution drafted to keep the armed forces front and center even after Myanmar's transition to democracy and civilian rule.

The amendments are supported by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, which holds a majority of seats in parliament, as well as parties representing the interests of ethnic minorities. Suu Kyi leads while holding the official title of state counselor.

But the constitution allots one-fourth of the seats in parliament to the military, enough under the rules to essentially give the bloc a veto over changes to the charter.

The NLD is prepared for the proposals to fail. With Myanmar's election coming in November, the party is racing to show efforts toward fulfilling campaign promises from the last general election in 2015.

The proposed changes submitted in January include reducing the military's share of parliamentary seats, lowering the majority needed to revise the charter to two-thirds from three-fourths, and requiring a civilian majority on the council that chooses the commander in chief of the armed forces.

Military-appointed legislators and members of the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party have put forward competing proposals. The debate has been heated: On the first day, a military lawmaker yelled about one of his proposals being missing from the materials distributed to parliament.

But with the outcome essentially predetermined, the fight itself is more important to the NLD as it faces public criticism over a lack of results.

Disappointment with the party is particularly strong in outlying areas with large ethnic minority populations. The government has made little progress on resolving ethnic strife, with many coming to see the NLD as siding with a military that has oppressed these groups.

Some small ethnic parties have merged to avoid splitting support from their respective groups. This represents a potential source of trouble for the NLD, which needs to win two-thirds of nonmilitary seats to maintain its majority.

Bringing the constitutional issue to the fore offers the ruling party a chance to argue that only it can stand up to the military effectively.

The hard line taken by the military and the Union Solidarity and Development Party has made the NLD's path easier, said political analyst Yan Myo Thein.

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