Despite warnings by President Thein Sein and Deputy Attorney General Tun Shin that the proposed changes would be unconstitutional, MPs held their ground and approved the amendments.
Observers, including the increasingly vibrant local media, have questioned whether the parliament dangerously undermined the judiciary by seeking to maintain its power vis-à-vis the government.
“At first, both [the government and parliament] tried to follow this book,” a Burmese journalist told me, holding up a copy of the 2008 constitution. “But now the parliament is using its majority to do things that are not in line with the constitution. Neither group has a tradition of compromise or negotiation. They just do things by force.”
In a November 2012 report titled Myanmar: Storm Clouds on the Horizon, the International Crisis Group noted that the impeachment of the Constitutional Tribunal “provided a clear demonstration of the enormous powers of the USDP-dominated legislature”.
The report continued, “With over half of the seats, the party has the ability to impeach any public official if it is able to secure the support of an additional ten per cent of representatives. … It is likely that the threat of impeachment could be used again to pressure the executive.”
But representatives are aware of the need to balance confrontation with compromise. During a discussion in November, instances of corruption were uncovered in fifteen ministries by the Office of the Auditor General. Following this discussion, Win Htein, a lower-house representative for the NLD from the city of Meiktila, offered a balanced solution.
Win Htein said that it would be best to resolve cases of misappropriation through a mixture of “some action and … some negotiation so that the funds lost will be reimbursed by the persons concerned”.
He continued, “It is important that it is not confrontational. Because we discuss it openly it will help transparency. I think it will improve later and they will manage [budgets] properly.”
Ultimately, this representative seems to speak for most MPs. As a whole, Burma’s young legislature remains acutely aware that the parliament is a work in progress, which it will continue to be into its second and third terms.
“I think of the experience of being a member of this first parliament as being like trying to lay the foundations to build a house,” said Tun Aung Kyaw of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party. “We can’t build a house immediately. First we make the foundations. And that’s what we are doing now.”
Thomas Kean is the editor of the English language edition of the Myanmar Times, a weekly newspaper based in Yangon