Burmaís National Convention: The Detailed Basic Principles

One aspect of the National Convention (NC) I have not seen widely discussed is the Detailed Basic Principles (DBPs).

Step 3 of Gen. Khin Nyunt's "roadmap" is "Drafting of a new constitution in accordance with basic principles and detailed basic principles [emphasis added] laid down by the National Convention".  

Discussion critical of the "roadmap"  has so far focussed largely on the "6 Objectives", especially the 6th one on continued military dominance of the political life of the country, the basic principles (the "104 principles")  and procedure, but has generally neglected the DBPs.

The "6 Objectives" constitute the main goals to be achieved by the NC, while the 104 Principles are the next step, the basic elements -- the skeleton, if you like -- of a new constitution. The DBP's, which have been fleshed out and  completed, however, are so detailed as to leave no room for further drafting. In effect they constitute draft chapters of a new constitution, which should be a matter of major concern to those who think that the elected representatives should have a meaningful input into any new constitution.

Drafting the DBPs was the  principal activity of the NC from January 1994 to its suspension in April 1996 (the "6 Objectives" were announced in SLORC Order 13/92 of 2 October 1992, more than 3 months before the beginning of the NC, and the 104 principles were issued on 16 September 1993). The DBPs which have been completed make up 6 (or 7) chapters of a 15-item agenda:

1. State fundamental principles
2. State Structure
Head of State
Citizens and their fundamental rights and duties
Political parties
11. Provisions on state of emergency
Amendment of the Constitution
State flag, State seal, national anthem and the capital
Transitory provisions and
General provisions

Of these, the chapters on State fundamental principles, State Structure, Head of State, Legislature, Executive, Judiciary,  plus DBPs on Self-Administered Areas have already been completed.

If, as the SPDC appears to be saying, the NC will resume where it left off in 1996, these completed chapters will remain intact. Since they include the State, the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, this means that the most important areas of a new constitution have already been decided and cannot be changed (don't hold your breath for the provisions on Amendment of the Constitution).

Those who would like to know what is in these chapters should go to http://www.burmalibrary.org/show.php?cat=1145&lo=d&sl=0 for the full texts.

Those who would like to go further and compare the language of the completed chapters with the statements to the NC plenary sessions of the various delegates should look at the NC proceedings as reported by "The Working People's Daily" and "The New Light of Myanmar" (January 1993 to April 1996) at http://www.burmalibrary.org/show.php?cat=1314&lo=d&sl=0 The full views of the  delegates cannot, of course, be read in these WPD/NLM reports, since all statements to the NC Plenary were vetted and censored to exclude any views unacceptable to the military-dominated committees which ran (and, presumably, will continue to run) the NC.

Those who would like to contribute to our understanding of the full views of delegates to the NC should send the texts of the full, uncensored statements of the NLD and other NC participants (plus any other relevant material not already in the Online Burma/Myanmar Library at http://www.burmalibrary.org  ) to David Arnott at darnott@iprolink.ch or hard copy for scanning to  85, Rue de Montbrillant, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland so that I can put them in the Online Burma/Myanmar Library. 

The NC Committees

The role and functioning of the National Convention Convening Commission, Work Committee and Management Committee is another area that deserves greater attention, since in the NC, this is where the power lies.  But that is for another day.

Who will wield the rubber stamp/actually draft the new constitution?

1) The National Convention?
2) The elected representatives?
3) A committee of "experts"?

Underlying much of the discussion are conflicting views on who should (or will) actually form the Constituent Assembly to draft the new constitution, once the principles have been drafted by the NC.  According to Declaration 1/90, delivered by Gen. Khin Nyunt on 27 July 1990,  which delegates were required to sign on to and which constitutes a notably authoritative pronouncement,  "the representatives elected by the people are those who have the responsibility to draw up the constitution of the future democratic State". This was repeated in subsequent military statements.

The NC was never announced as a constituent assembly, though some commentators have referred to it as drafting a new constitution. The 7-step "roadmap", however, places the drafting of a new constitution outside the NC , as one of the steps to be taken "After the successful holding of the National Convention" (step 2 of the 7-step "roadmap"). 

If not the NC, then who is to do the drafting/wield the rubber stamp?  Declaration 1/90 states that the task of drafting belongs to the elected representatives.  However, according to an  informative and well argued  report by the International Crisis Group  -- Myanmar: sanctions, engagement or another way forward?  of 26 April 2004 at   http://www.crisisweb.org//library/documents/asia/burma_myanmar/078_myanmar_sanctions_engagement_or_another_way_web.pdf the actual drafting "supposedly will be done by "experts". Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win, answer to question at the Conference on Understanding Myanmar, held by Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Yangon on 26-27 January, 2004." (footnote 23 on page 5 of the ICG report).  While this does not exclude elected representatives, the implication is that the drafting will be done by an SPDC- or NC-appointed committee.


National Convention documents and commentaries may be found in the Online Burma/Myanmar Library at http://www.burmalibrary.org/show.php?cat=1142&lo=d&sl=0 Of the commentaries, see especially Janelle Diller's The National Convention in Burma (Myanmar): An Impediment to the Restoration of Democracy  at http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs/LHR-Diller3.html  Material on the various "roadmaps" is at http://www.burmalibrary.org/show.php?cat=1446&lo=d&sl=0

David Arnott, Geneva, 29 April 2004