By Shoon Naing and Poppy McPherson
NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – Myanmar’s ruling party on Tuesday proposed steps toward changing the constitution, its biggest challenge in nearly three years to the military’s power over politics as enshrined in the charter.
The proposal could add to tension between the military and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which have been at loggerheads over the charter since the party’s historic landslide election win in 2015.
The surprise bid to reform the constitution comes as both civilian and military leaders face growing international pressure over an army crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in 2017 that sent about 730,000 people fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.
Addressing parliament on Tuesday, speaker T Khun Myat said NLD member of parliament Aung Kyi Nyunt had submitted an “emergency proposal” to form a parliamentary committee for amending the constitution.
The speaker turned down an objection by military lawmaker Brigadier-General Maung Maung that the proposal breached “procedure”.
Parliament will vote later on Tuesday on whether to discuss the proposal further, a motion requiring a simple majority.
Nobel laureate Suu Kyi’s NLD commands a large majority in the two houses of parliament.
But the 2008 constitution, drafted during military rule, guarantees the army a quarter of seats and changes to the charter require votes of more than 75 percent, giving the army an effective veto.
The constitution also blocks Suu Kyi from becoming president as it contains a prohibition on presidential candidates with foreign spouses or children. Suu Kyi had two sons with her late British academic husband.
For nearly three years, she has ruled from “above the president” by creating a new position of State Counsellor.
The constitution also gives military control of key security ministries, including defense and home affairs.
Suu Kyi has long spoken of her aim to reform the constitution as part of a democratic transition after 50 years of strict military rule.
“The amendment of the constitution was one of the goals of our government,” she said during a forum in Singapore in August.
“The completion of our democratic transition must necessarily involve the completion of a truly democratic constitution.”
She was not in parliament on Tuesday.
The military has for decades seen itself as the only institution capable of preventing the disintegration of the ethnically diverse country, and has stressed the importance of its constitutional oversight of the political system.
An adviser to Suu Kyi who openly called for reforms to reduce the military’s role, Ko Ni, was shot dead in broad daylight at the Yangon International Airport exactly two years ago, on Jan. 29, 2017.
While no evidence has emerged that his call for constitutional reform led directly to his murder, or that active military officials ordered the killing, his death cast a pall over reform efforts.
It was not clear what provisions of the constitution the NLD’s proposal would target or whether the party had secured the buy-in from the military necessary to pass any such measure.
In the past, some members of Suu Kyi’s party have expressed their desire to amend Article 436, which gives the military the effective veto over constitutional reform.
At a short meeting with its MPs on Monday, the party’s central executive panel briefed them on the plans for Tuesday’s vote, said Ye Htut, who attended the gathering.
Party spokesman Myo Nyunt declined to comment. Reuters was unable to seek comment from the parliamentary office.
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)