Sydney Law School leads constitutional discussions in Myanmar

3 May 2013

A new constitution is an important step towards democracy for the people of Myanmar. [Image: Flickr/eGuide Travel, used under the Creative Commons licence]
A new constitution is an important step towards democracy for the people of Myanmar. [Image: Flickr/eGuide Travel, used under the Creative Commons licence]

The Sydney Law School is leading Australia's charge to lay the foundations for Burmese democracy by hosting a constitutional workshop in Yangon next week.

Initiated by a conversation in 2011 between Myanmar's democratic stalwart Aung San Suu Kyi and the Law School's Chair of Jurisprudence Professor Wojciech Sadurski, the three-day workshop will bring academic constitutional experts together with key Burmese opinion leaders decision makers and intellectuals involved in the nation's democratic transition. Suu-Kyi and others from across the political spectrum will attend.

Myanmar's current constitution, adopted in 2008 after a lengthy convention, is generally regarded as needing amendment or an outright change if it is to support a robust democracy where the three arms of government - the executive, legislature and judiciary - keep each other in check, says Professor Sadurski. It also needs to review the role of the military in government and better support the country's move towards decentralisation, considered necessary to respect the country's ethnic diversity.

"The current constitution requires a quarter of MPs to be from the military and gives the executive branch of government excessive control over the political system and the judiciary," says Professor Sadurski. "More and more people in Myanmar conclude that the current constitution is not a good basis for transition to democracy."

Recent reports of ethnic cleansing in the state of Arakan highlights the need for a federal approach that accounts for the country's numerous ethnic groups, largely divided along geographic lines. "Federalism is an area in which Australia's speakers are particularly well versed," says Professor Sadurski.

Fellow event-organiser, speaker and Sydney Law School adjunct lecturer Andrew McLeod says the workshop aims to teach Myanmar's emerging leaders about the fundamental aspects of constitutionalism.

"We don't propose to draft a new constitution or suggest specific changes. This needs to be worked out by people within the country. Our speakers will instead drive home the message that good constitutional design is crucial for creating an enduring democracy, outline key elements of effective constitutions in other democratic systems and emphasise that one can learn a lot from other 'transitional democracies'."

Project organisers have invited political leaders and activists, MPs, public servants, academics, journalists, lawyers and NGOs to participate in the Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Workshop. Speakers include experts from Australian universities, as well as from Canada and Singapore, and project patron Janelle Saffin, the federal MP for Page.

Professor Sadurski says it is intended that the 8 to 10 May event will lead to ongoing dialogue with those engaged in Myanmar's democratic reform. "We hope that it will not be just a one-off event."

The Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Workshop has been principally funded by the Australian Federal Government via the Australian embassy in Yangon. Additional funding has come from the Sydney Law School (which spearheaded the initiative), the University of NSW Law School, the Australian National University, the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation, DLA Piper and Rotary International. See a full list of partners, speakers and event organisers in the event program (PDF, 882KB).

Media opportunities will be available for all media during the workshop, which is likely to conclude with a press conference. Those wishing to attend the full workshop must pre-register by Tuesday 7 May.

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For interviews, further information or to register to attend the workshop contact:
Jocelyn Prasad, +612 9114 1382, +61 450 202 078,