Beyond Myanmar’s 100-day Reform Agenda: Strengthening Institutional Roles

Myanmar is entering a new chapter in its transition as the reform agenda of the new National League for Democracy (NLD) government gains momentum. On a recent visit to Nay Pyi Taw, Democracy Reporting International met with Parliament and the Constitutional Tribunal to discuss what next for the reform process and key institutions.

The visibility of Myanmar’s Parliament, the Pyidaungsu Hlattaw, is high in the NLD government’s 100-day reform agenda and has highlighted its key role in shaping the next steps of the reform process.

In addition to passing fresh legislation, the Parliament has focussed on reviewing and repealing ordinary laws used as tools of repression under the former military regime. High profile examples include the controversial State Protection Law, repealed by Parliament in May, and the Peaceful Assembly Law, which is currently under review in the Lower House.

Notwithstanding its recent activism, questions revolve around the legislature’s longer-term role, beyond the government-driven reform agenda. Closely tied to questions of effective law-making and the institutional capacity of Parliament, discussions with DRI’s experts focused on lessons learned from other transition countries and possible avenues for Myanmar’s Parliament to define a more robust institutional role.

Meeting with the Parliament’s Bill Committee and International Relations Committee, DRI highlighted the importance of drawing upon external resources in law-making and routinely engaging with civil society. Civil society organisations can offer crucial expertise to lawmakers, alleviating the constraints that parliamentarians regularly face and making for a more efficient legislative process overall.

MPs sought the advice of DRI on reforming the internal rules of procedure to strengthen the inner workings of Parliament. These day-to-day rules determine the structure of parliamentary committees and the time allocated for reviewing bills. Myanmar’s Parliament stands to benefit from reform of its procedural rules, providing a more effective division of labour between standing and technical committees, greater transparency in law-making and allowing MPs more appropriate timeframes for reviewing bills.

In parallel, DRI discussed comparative experiences with the newly appointed judges of the Constitutional Tribunal. DRI highlighted practical pathways to work within the existing constitutional framework and enhance the Tribunal’s influence. Despite the limited powers invested in the body by the 2008 Constitution, the Tribunal can develop its legal authority by building upon its body of case law and legal argumentation. This can become a key avenue for progressively strengthening the institutional role of the Constitutional Tribunal, even in the absence of constitutional reform.

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