Aung San Suu Kyi’s bid to reform charter sparks rival protests in Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy party is pushing for change despite objections from military lawmakers, who hold a veto over amendments. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2019

Aung San Suu Kyi’s bid to reform charter sparks rival protests in Myanmar

  • Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy party is pushing for change despite objections from military lawmakers
  • Military lawmakers hold a veto over amendments

YANGON: Hundreds of people demonstrated in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, on Wednesday in support of proposed constitutional amendments that would reduce the power of the military.
A separate protest against the reforms was planned for later in the day.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party is pushing for change despite objections from military lawmakers, who hold a veto over amendments.
The demonstrators, led by activists not aligned to the party, wore red headbands printed with the words “Amend the 2008 Constitution.”
“The current government is trying to move forward, but they can’t because of the 2008 constitution,” said protest organizer Pyae Phyo Zaw, who also called for elected leaders to be given oversight of the security forces.
After decades of military rule, Nobel laureate Suu Kyi took the reins in 2016 after an electoral landslide, but is forced to share power with the generals.
Under the constitution drafted by the former junta, the military chief nominates a quarter of lawmakers and the ministers of defense, home affairs and border affairs.
It also blocks Suu Kyi from becoming president, with a prohibition on presidential candidates with foreign spouses or children. Suu Kyi had two sons with her late husband, Michael Aris, a British academic.
A flyer for Wednesday’s separate counter protest called on “those who love their race and religion” to turn out to help preserve that clause.
A nationalist movement led by Buddhist monks is critical of Suu Kyi and casts the military as protector of the Buddhist-majority nation.
A report containing thousands of amendments proposed by various political parties was submitted on Monday for debate at the parliament in the capital, Naypyitaw, but has not been made public.
Nay Phone Latt, an NLD lawmaker in Yangon’s regional parliament, told Reuters one of the party’s key proposals was to set a timeline for the gradual reduction of military seats in parliament, beginning with a move from 25 percent to 15 percent in 2021.
The NLD holds most seats in parliament, but the military lawmakers mean it lacks the 75 percent majority needed to amend the constitution.
“We need military men’s support, so it depends on the stance of the military,” Nay Phone Latt said. “But we hope that it can be accepted by the military as it would reduce bit by bit over time.”
Kyaw Khine Win, another demonstrator, said he rallied in favor of amending the charter because it was written to bar Suu Kyi from leading the country and imposed “forcefully.”
“We want a country which is commanded by the people,” he said.


Filipino expats unite as home country battles volcano’s wrath

Updated 2 min 1 sec ago

Filipino expats unite as home country battles volcano’s wrath

  • Filipino groups in Dubai are coming together to collect goods for donation for the Taal eruption victims
  • The Philippines remained on high alert on Friday as authorities monitored Taal, which is the second most active volcano in the country

DUBAI: A vast grey stretched across empty villages – once verdant, now lifeless after volcanic ash wiped its colors. The thick charcoal-like substance cloaked cracked roads, tumbled trees, and dilapidated houses, as an angry volcano rumbled in the Philippines.

Tens of thousands of people were displaced earlier this week when Taal Volcano, a picturesque tourist spot about 70 kilometers south of Manila, spew huge plume of volcanic ash to the sky and triggered sporadic tremors around the province.

“When can we go back to our homes?” a hopeful man asked Filipino volunteer Jaya Bernardo, as she visited an evacuation site near where the Taal Volcano erupted on Sunday.

She couldn’t answer him straight, Bernardo said, because that meant telling him there might not be anything to go back to.

Bernardo, who lives in a mildly-hit town around Taal, has been going around evacuation centers to give out care packages, saying it’s “important for people to come together” in times like this.

Within hours of the volcanic eruption, the call for help reached the UAE, home to about a million Filipino expats. Many community groups have been organizing donation drives to collect goods to be sent back home.

Lance Japor, who leads a community group in Dubai, said inquiries were coming in about how to help volcano victims even before a campaign was announced.

“What I’ve noticed is that the desire to help others in need is innate to us,” he told Arab News, adding it was not the first time Filipino expats showed urgent concern and care for their countrymen when a calamity hit the Philippines.

There was a strong response for families displaced from a city in the south of the country after armed rebels captured the area. A community group from Dubai flew to the restive city to hand out gifts to families who had taken refuge in an abandoned building.

Japor’s volcano campaign has attracted the help of private companies such as hotels donating blankets and pillows, and cargo companies pledging to deliver the packages for free to the Philippines.

Filipino expats have also expressed a desire to volunteer, Japor added, and a volunteer event has been scheduled for Jan. 18 at the Philippines’ Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s office in Dubai.

Groups in the UAE are working with organizations in the Philippines to facilitate the donations and determine what the affected communities need. The list includes special face masks and eye drops, said Japor.

The Philippines remained on high alert on Friday as authorities monitored Taal, which is the second most active volcano in the country.

Volcanic ash has blanketed the area and villages lie empty, with authorities warning of a “bigger eruption” as earthquakes were still being felt around the area. 

The region was at alert level four from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, meaning that “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days.” The highest alert level is five.

The institute strongly reiterated total evacuation of Taal Volcano Island and high-risk areas as identified in hazard maps.

“Residents around Taal Volcano are advised to guard against the effects of heavy and prolonged ashfall. Civil aviation authorities must advise pilots to avoid the airspace around Taal Volcano as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from the eruption column pose hazards to aircraft,” it added.

Police in the area have also warned residents against trying to go back to their houses without official clearance from authorities, but local media reports said people were sneaking back by boat to the island and nearby towns to check on their possessions.