Myanmar constitution vests military chief with more power than president, says foreign expert

The 2008 State Constitution of Myanmar gives the military a much bigger role and the defence services commander-in-chief has more power than the president, a foreign law expert said.

Dr Melissa Crouch from the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law made the comparison to the Indonesian constitution during the second-day session of Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Workshop in Yangon yesterday.
Dr Crouch asked three questions after studying the military role in Myanmar’s constitution: (1) Which organization controls the military? (2) Who stays above, the military or the law? (3) To what extent does the constitution control the military role?

According to Chapter (7) of the constitution, she said the military is under control of the defence services commander-in-chief, who is chosen by the National Defence and Security Council. But the constitution states no fixed term or set qualifications for the commander-in-chief. It does not mention any rules or laws how to remove the commander-in-chief.

The law expert also commented that the defence services (military) should be under control of Parliament and the military should not engage in legislative affairs.

Comparing the Myanmar constitution with the Indonesia’s, Dr Crouch said the Indonesian constitution states that the military shall not have special rights and powers apart from powers vested in it. In Indonesia, the civilian court can use more power than the court martial, she added.

Like Myanmar, Indonesia had been under military rule for many years. But it could  remove the military role from parliament in its reform process, Dr Crouch said.

In the Philippines also, its constitution bars military personnel from directly taking part in political affairs. The military is not allowed to engage in civilian issues and the military personnel must respect the constitution, Dr Crouch explained.

When it comes to the Myanmar constitution, the fact that Parliament has to seek advice of the commander-in-chief to appoint border affairs minister shows Parliament cannot make an independent decision without the military chief, Dr Crouch said.

She said she knew the importance of the military role in a country but the military’s direct involvement in political affairs can affect that country’s democracy.

Melissa Crouch is a postdoctoral fellow at the Law Faculty of the National University of Singapore. In 2012, she spent two months as a postdoctoral fellow at the International Institute of Asian Studies in Leiden, the Netherlands. Prior to this, Dr Crouch was a research fellow at the Melbourne Law School, the University of Melbourne, Australia. Her main area of teaching interest is public law, particularly administrative law, and she has taught in Australia and at the National University of Singapore.

Dr Crouch’s work has been published in journals such as the Sydney Law Review, Asian Studies Review, and Singapore Journal of Legal Studies. She has a forthcoming book on ‘Law and Religion in Indonesia: Faith, Conflict and the Courts in West Java’ (Rutledge). She is one of the Editors of the Australian Journal of Asian Law and is an Associate with the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, the Melbourne Law School, the University of Melbourne.