Sydney Law School conducts Constitutional Reform Workshop in Myanmar

9 May 2013

Aung Sang Suu Kyi with Professor Wojciech Sadurski

A three-day workshop on constitutional reform, under the auspices of the University of Sydney Faculty of Law (Sydney Law School) has just concluded in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma), with the participation of representatives of a very wide spectrum of this country's political stakeholders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, Chair of the National League for Democracy and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. It was the first event of this kind and of this size in Myanmar as it embarks upon the path of democratic transition, and in the opinion of its participants, it has become an important trigger in stimulating the process of much needed constitutional change in this country.

As Aung San Suu Kyi said at a press conference held immediately after the workshop, "I would like to amend the Constitution as soon as I can", and added, referring to the governing party's declared intention of constitutional reform: "If they really want to change the constitution, there's no reason not to fully collaborate with them". A leading local agency Mizzima also quoted Professor Wojciech Sadurski as saying at the press conference: "If there is an area of consensus emerging from this conference, it's that the amendment that is needed are the rules of the amendment [of the Constitution]".

Sydney Law School, has put together an important team of eminent constitutional experts led by Wojciech Sadurski, Challis professor of jurisprudence at Sydney Law School. Constitutional scholars from Sydney Law School, University of New South Wales, Australian National University, University of Victoria in Canada and National University of Singapore, as well as a leading Australian politician involved for many years in promoting human rights and democracy in Burma/Myanmar, Ms Janelle Saffin (federal member of Parliament for Page, New South Wales, and Patron of the constitutional reform in Myanmar project) all gave lectures and also led discussions in smaller thematic round tables.

Apart from Aung San Suu Kyi, a historic leader of the NLD, U Tin *U and also leaders of several other parties (including the governing USDP and many ethnic parties from Shan, Kachin, Karen and other regions) participated. There were also law professors from several Myanmar universities, members of think tanks and NGOs, political scientists, lawyers and journalists taking active part in the conference.

The common view was that the conference was extremely timely because constitutional change is necessary for Myanmar as it moves along the path of democratic transition, and especially in the run-up to the general elections planned for 2015. There are many aspects of the current constitutional settlement which are faulty, and which hinder democratic reforms. In particular, a dominant view emerged that the following aspects of Myanmar constitutionalism require urgent attention and change:

  • Legal conditions of the rule of law, and in particular relaxing the executive control over the judiciary and providing conditions for judicial independence;
  • More genuine federalism or stronger decentralization, with stronger autonomy rights for ethnic minorities;
  • Strengthening of the separation of powers, including reducing the current imbalance in favour of the executive, and also relaxing the links between the military and the executive;
  • Creating strong and independent regulatory institutions, such as anti-corruption bodies, and providing guarantees of independence for the electoral commission, with the view of ensuring free and fair elections;
  • Changing the current constitution amendment rules which are extremely stringent and render constitutional change extremely difficult.

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. It was agreed that the workshop (which was held with support of the Australian Embassy in Myanmar) was an important first step towards deeper reflection of constitutional reform, and should be followed by other conferences and workshops of this type. Professor Sadurski and his collaborators expressed their strong wish to continue to share their knowledge and expertise with Myanmar political forces and opinion leaders.

Workshop Program