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Myanmar - Government


Head of State

Head of Government

After Independence (1948-today)
1948- President Sut Shwe Thike Prime Minister U Nu
1953-58 President Dr.Ba Oo Prime Minister U Nu
1958-60 General Ne Win General Ne Win
1959-62 President Mahn Win Maung Prime Minister U Nu
1962-74 General Ne Win General Ne Win
1974-84 President U Ne Win President U Ne Win
1984-88 President U Ne Win President U San Yu
1988 President U Sein Lwin President U Sein Lwin
1988 President Dr.Maung Maung President Dr.Maung Maung
1988-1990 Prime Minister SGen. Saw Maung Prime Minister SGen. Saw Maung
1990-2004 Chairman SGen.Than Shwe Prime Minister SGen.Than Shwe
2004-2007 Chairman SGen.Than Shwe Prime Minister SGen.Soe Win
2007-2011 Chairman SGen.Than Shwe Prime Minister SGen.Thein Sein
2011-2016 President SGen.Thein Sein
2016-2021 President Htin Kyaw State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi
2018-2021 President Win Myint State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi
2021-present Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing

The Union of Burma (or Myanmar as it is called by the ruling junta) consists of 14 states and divisions. Administrative subdivisions include seven primarily Burman divisions (tain) and seven ethnic states (pyi nay); Chin State, Kachin State, Karen State, Karenni State, Mon State, Arakan State, Shan State, Rangoon Division, Mandalay Division, Tenessarim Division, Irrawaddy Division, Pegu Division, Magway Division, and Sagaing Division.

Burma remains an authoritarian country dominated by active or former members of the military. The nation is headed by a civilian president and two vice presidents. On paper, power is apportioned between executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The military remains an institution unto itself, and the head of the armed forces retains the right to invoke extraordinary powers including the ability to suspend civil liberties and abrogate parliamentary authority.

Ethnic minority political parties, some of which fared well in their states but did not win many national seats in the 2020 election, said they want the NLD and the largest opposition force, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), to amend the constitution to give their states the right to appoint their own chief ministers. The parties want the NLD to amend Article 261, which grants Myanmar’s president, rather than local legislators, the authority to nominate chief ministers in the country’s 14 states and regions. Lawmakers from the majority winning party in each state should name their own chief ministers as a first step towards the formation of a federal union, say the parties. NLD lawmakers proposed amending the article when the USDP controlled the government from 2011-2016, but the military-backed ruling party opposed it. Similarly, the USDP called for changing the article during the NLD government’s current term, but NLD lawmakers who control the majority of seats in the national parliament opposed the measure.

Following the elections, the NLD appealed to dozens of ethnic political parties to join an effort to forge a federal union, while the military set up a permanent Peace Talks Committee with five lieutenant-generals to negotiate with rebel armies. The United Wa State Army (USWA), Myanmar’s largest non-state military, and the Arakan Army (AA), which has been fighting a nearly two-year-long battle with Myanmar forces in Rakhine state, said they would cooperate with the next government on peace and national reconciliation.

In 1962 General Ne Win led a coup abolishing the constitution and establishing a xenophobic military government with socialist economic priorities. These policies had devastating effects on the country's economy and business climate. In March 1988 student disturbances broke out in Rangoon in response to the worsening economic situation which evolved into a call for change in regime. Despite repeated violent crackdowns by the military and police, the demonstrations increased in size as the general public joined the students. During mass demonstrations on August 8, 1988, military forces killed more than 1,000 demonstrators. It was at a rally following this massacre that Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San, made her first political speech and assumed the role of leader of the opposition.

Than ShweOn 18 September 1988 the military deposed the Ne Win's Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP), abolished the constitution, and established a new ruling junta called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In an effort to "restore order," the SLORC sent the army into the streets to suppress the ongoing public demonstrations. An estimated additional 3,000 were killed, and more than 10,000 students fled into the hills and border areas. The SLORC ruled by martial law until national parliamentary elections were held on May 27, 1990. The results were an overwhelming victory for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won 392 of the 485 seats, even though she was under house arrest. However, the SLORC refused to call the Parliament into session and imprisoned many political activists. The ruling junta changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997, but did not change its policy of autocratic control and repression of the democratic opposition.

In November 2005, the ruling regime unexpectedly relocated the capital city from Rangoon to Nay Pyi Taw, located in central Burma approximately 200 miles north of Rangoon, further isolating the government from the public and international community. Most government workers and ministries moved to Nay Pyi Taw over the following 6 months, and rapid development of the new capital continues. Foreign diplomatic missions are still located in Rangoon and as of 2011 no country had announced plans to move its embassy to Nay Pyi Taw.

Administrative control is exercised from the central government through a system of subordinate executive bodies. Power is centered on the ruling junta -- the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC--which maintains strict authoritarian rule over the people of Burma. Control is maintained through the strict censuring of information, repression of individual rights, and suppression of ethnic minority groups. Today the SPDC continues its harsh rule and systematic human rights abuses. Any future political transition will have to be negotiated among the SPDC, the political opposition, and representatives of Burma's many ethnic minorities.

The constitution of January 3, 1974 was suspended since September 18, 1988 when junta took power. The Executive consisted of a Prime Minister and Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Legislative branch is a unicameral People's Assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw) with 485 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve 4-year terms. The last elections were in 1990, but the Assembly was never convened. The legal system was based on the British-era system, but now the junta rules by Decree and there is no guarantee of a fair public trial; the judiciary is not independent. The National League for Democracy (NLD) was the primary opposition party; National Unity Party (NUP) was the primary pro-regime party; the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) is a pro-regime social organization; and other smaller parties.

2008 Constitution

A national convention started on January 9, 1993 to draft a new constitution, but progress was long stalled. Following the regime's 1993 proclamation of a seven-step roadmap to democracy and a subsequent national convention which convened intermittently, the regime in September 2007 concluded the process of "drafting" principles for the new constitution. Delegates to the convention were not allowed to debate freely, discuss, or attempt to amend the principles.

In October 2007, the SPDC appointed 54 pro-regime persons to sit on a constitution drafting committee. The government declared the completion of the constitution drafting committee's work in February 2008, and announced that it would hold a national referendum on the constitution in May 2008, with multi-party elections planned for 2010. While the referendum law provided for a secret ballot, free debate was not permitted and activities considered "interfering with the referendum" carried a 3-year prison sentence. The government carried out the referendum in May 2008 amidst the aftermath of the humanitarian disaster caused by Cyclone Nargis. Although the referendum was rife with irregularities, the government announced that 92.48% of voters approved the constitution, with a 98% voter turnout. Independent observers did not consider those figures to be credible.

In a radical departure from a highly centralised structure, the 2008 Constitution established 14 sub-national governments, with partially elected parliaments. In addition to their devolved political authority, a range of finance and administrative functions were ceded to this newly minted level of government. Local politicians at sub-national level must now win elections, conceptualise policies and manage their own budgets to be used as tools to respond to their citizens’ needs.

The Defense Services Commander-in-Chief appoints the Minister of Defense, Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Border Affairs who will deal with ethnic matters and cross-border issues. The Chief Ministers for Region Hluttaws (Assemblies) and State Hluttaws (Assemblies) are to be appointed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services. Unlike in many countries where the head of the executive is normally the commander in chief of the armed forces in line with the principle of civilian control of the military, the President in Myanmar is not the Commander in Chief of the army. This position is retained by the military who effectively displaces the President in times of national emergency threating national unity. The 2008 constitution also granted the military immunity from prosecution and freedom from public accountability and legitimizes military subjugation of ethnic nationality communities.

On 21 October 2008 Myanmar started to use new state flag prescribed in the new state constitution. The council enacted some laws concerning state flag, state seal and national anthem in accordance with the new state constitution. The state flag, state seal and national anthem had been prescribed in the new state constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar approved through a national referendum in May 2008.

President U Thein SeinThe 2008 constitution provided for popularly elected legislators to a bicameral parliament; however, it stipulates that at least 25 percent of the seats must be reserved for military members appointed by the uniformed commander in chief of Defense Services. It also bars many persons from office who had not resided in the country for at least 10 consecutive years prior to election, had prior misconduct the regime deemed disqualifying, accepted assistance from a foreign government, or were entitled to citizenship of a foreign nation.

Myanmar’s military oversees three key security-related ministries—defense, border affairs, and home affairs, giving it jurisdiction over political prisoners.

Of note, Article 59 prohibits anyone with foreign nationality or relatives from running for President. This effectively excludes opposition leader Aung Sung Suu Kyi of National League for Democracy (NLD) whose children and deceased husband are British citizens.

Additionally, by the constitution's own terms, the SPDC continued to "exercise state sovereignty" until the parliament is convened, which was scheduled for January 31, 2011.

In early August 2010 the Union Election Commission [UEC] announced there would be 330 township-based constituencies of the lower house (People's Parliament), 168 constituencies of the upper house (National Parliament), and 665 constituencies of the regional/state parliaments. One-quarter of all national and regional parliamentary seats were reserved for military appointees.

All levels of parliament were scheduled to convene on January 31, 2011. A joint session of the upper and lower houses--the Union Assembly--was to convene within 15 days of that date. In addition the upper and lower houses each were to select a vice president, the military members of both the upper and lower houses would select a third vice president, and the entire bicameral parliament would select the president from among the three vice presidents. The constitution provides for the military to take over the government should the president, who must have a military background, judge the security situation to be unstable.

The country held its first elections in 20 years on November 7, 2010. The United States condemned the planning and the execution of the elections as neither free nor fair. The regime proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party won over three-quarters of elective parliamentary seats, although observers around the country reported widespread electoral malfeasance, including abuse of advance voting procedures. Per Burma's 2008 constitution, military appointees fill one-quarter of all parliamentary seats. The new, nominally civilian government took office on April 1, 2011, and the SPDC was dissolved. Insiders from the SPDC era fill almost all key positions at the national level and most at the state/region level.

Htin Kyaw was sworn in on 30 March 2016 as Myanmar’s first civilian president in more than a half-century, telling lawmakers that he will work for a democratic constitution based on a federal union in keeping with the ambition of his National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

“There is no provision in the constitution for the appointment of a Prime Minister, but there is nothing in the constitution either which prevents this,” Derek Tonkin, a former UK ambassador, wrote in a commentary in March 2016, amid speculation over how Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would formally assume power, together with a proxy president.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi created a State Counsellor position tantamount to that of prime minister for herself. The “state counsellor law” was approved for debate by the upper house yesterday without objection following presentation by the bill committee, in the new government’s first legislative act since taking office on 30 March 2016. The position had been crafted for the party leader because of the constitutional ban on her becoming president under article 59(f). The party would not give up its attempts to amend the constitution. The bill says the role of “state counsellor” will be to provide advice for the state in the citizens’ interests in a manner that does not contravene the constitution. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would also have the responsibility of reporting to parliament, as related to her functions, and given a budget.

The architect of this move, a lawyer by the name of Ko Ni and a vocal critic of the military, was shot dead in the street in front of the Yangon airport soon after. The perpetrator was caught, but the masterminds behind the attack were never identified. But it seemed that the military was sending a message to the NLD.

Military deputies in Myanmar’s parliament said 04 April 2016 that they wanted more time to discuss a bill that will make Aung San Suu Kyi a state counselor, fearing that the position will give her power equal to that of the president and upset the balance of power among the three branches of government. The bill, which aready passed in the upper house, was submitted to the lower house where military deputies, who control a quarter of the seats in parliament, objected to the measure, saying it is unconstitutional.

Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than told MPs 06 May 2016 that President Htin Kyaw wants to form a ministry for Aung San Suu Kyi, the state counsellor. "We need a ministry capable of speeding up the government’s measures for achieving success," the president said in his message to Parliament. Section 202 of the Constitution says that the president, with parliamentary support, can restructure, axe and create ministries. Suu Kyi is also the foreign affairs and president's office minister in addition to her newly created prime ministerial role. The highly secretive Ministry for the State Counsellor was approved by parliament 11 May 2016 with no objections, despite lingering questions about the constitutional legitimacy of the new bureau.

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Page last modified: 06-05-2021 17:12:26 ZULU