Junta's foes woo ethnic allies with new Myanmar constitution

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Anti-coup protesters run to avoid military forces during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar on Wednesday March 31, 2021. The Southeast Asian nation has been wracked by violence since the military ousted a civilian-led government on February 1 and began to forcibly put down protests. (AP Photo)

YANGON – Opponents of Myanmar’s military government declared the country’s 2008 constitution void and put forward an interim replacement charter late Wednesday in a major political challenge to the ruling junta.

The moves, while more symbolic than practical, could help woo the country's armed ethnic militias to ally themselves with the mass protest movement against the military's seizure of power in February.

The actions were taken by the CRPH, an underground, self-styled alternative government established by elected lawmakers who were not allowed to take their seats when the military staged the coup and ousted and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the national Parliament, made the announcements on social media.

The 2008 constitution, implemented under army rule, ensured the military maintained its dominance during the country's decade of progress toward democracy, such as by reserving it a quarter of the seats in Parliament and retaining responsibility for state security. The junta that seized power from the civilian government Feb. 1 cites emergency provisions in the charter as giving its takeover constitutional legitimacy.

The CRPH also presented a Federal Democracy Charter as an interim constitution. It aims to end Myanmar's long history of military dictatorship as well as meeting the longstanding demands of its myriad ethnic minority groups for greater autonomy in their regions.

The proposals are politically significant because the protest movement against military rule has been seeking an alliance with the ethnic minority armed groups and would like them to form a federal army as a counterweight to the government armed forces.

Largely peaceful demonstrators in cities and towns have been facing police and soldiers armed with war weapons that they have used freely. At least 536 protesters and bystanders have been killed since the coup, according to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which counts those it can document and says the actual toll is likely much higher.

The CRPH has sought to be recognized as Myanmar’s sole legitimate government body. Foreign governments and international organization have not yet granted it formal status, but some acknowledge it as a stakeholder that must at least be consulted. The junta has declared it treasonous.