Sydney Law School leads successful constitutional talks in Myanmar

15 May 2013

(L-R) Andrew McLeod, Aung San Suu Kyi and Professor Wojciech Sadurski. Andrew and Professor Sadurski are from Sydney Law School.
(L-R) Andrew McLeod, Aung San Suu Kyi and Professor Wojciech Sadurski. Andrew and Professor Sadurski are from Sydney Law School.

A Sydney Law School-led workshop in Yangon last week, attended by politicians and decision makers across Myanmar's political spectrum, has agreed to promote constitutional reform in that country.

The Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Workshop was the first major stepping stone to constitutional reform, considered key to ensuring a smooth and enduring transition to democracy. It was well received by its diverse and influential participants and widely reported in South East Asian media.

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. Key representatives from the ruling USDP party, Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party, the military and minority ethnic groups agreed at the workshop that a stronger form of federalism is critical to addressing ethnic tensions threatening Myanmar's stability. A more federal system would give ethnic groups, largely divided along geographic lines, greater autonomy.

Participants said the workshop was an important trigger in stimulating constitutional change and the law school intends to continue leading the dialogue with Myanmar's key political players to help cement constitutional reform.

"I would like to amend the constitution as soon as I can," Suu Kyi said on behalf of her party at a press conference held after the workshop.

Top of the list of topics discussed was the need to reduce the stringency around amending the constitution. Currently three quarters of Myanmar's parliament needs to approve constitutional change.

"The 75 percent required to change the constitution is unusually and absurdly rigorous and unprecedented in the world's constitutions today. It was clearly introduced for specific political reasons," says Wojciech Sadurski, Challis Professor in Jurisprudence at the Sydney Law School and workshop director.

Workshop participants also reached consensus around strengthening the separation of powers in Myanmar. They were generally receptive to relaxing executive control over the judiciary, promoting judicial independence and loosening the links between the military and the executive.

"These were just some of the specific points of the constitutional agenda for Myanmar which were discussed and around which a consensus or near-consensus emerged," says Professor Sadurski. "We hope to cement positive constitutional change through conferences and workshops in Yangon."

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