U Ko Ni, a National League for Democracy (NLD) legal adviser, who was also a patron of the recently formed Myanmar Muslim Lawyers Association, was shot and killed at the Yangon airport on January 29 yesterday upon his return from Indonesia, where he was part of a delegation attending a senior leadership meeting in Jakarta. He was waiting at the taxi station at the airport at around 4:30pm when he was shot in the head and killed.
I have always been a sympathizer, adorer and vivid follower of U Ko Ni’s political speeches and statements as his views were innovative, articulate and practically aimed at resolving problems, his assassination news stuck me like a lighting and makes me feel sad and angry, even though it is clear from the outset that there was a possibility that he could be harmed by radical nationalist rightist group or hardliner elements that could not tolerate his clipped and clear way out suggestions in which Burma is now lost, as if being in a labyrinth, and how one could navigate to free itself from the situation it is in.
Apart from that being a Muslim in the ultra-Buddhist-nationalist sea, he was openly vulnerable, although he would have met such a faith have never come to mind until it happened.
I have been following U Ko Ni’s activities, since he came up with a proposal on how to circumvent the 75% approval clause in amendments or rewriting of the constitution, so that it is possible to overcome the hurdles impacted by the Military-drafted Constitution of 2008.
He said in order to circumvent it, a simple majority motion on the need to amendment the constitution should be tabled citing unconstitutionality of the 2008 Constitution, where 50% or more votes could be easily achieved given the NLD majority and ethnic political parties votes that would support such a bill, which the military won’t be able to block.
For the time being, even though the NLD now controls the government and both houses of parliament, the military still retains 25 percent of seats, giving it a veto over any change.
Since 2013, U Ko Ni had been airing and lobbying that the 2008 Constitution is not going to lead to democracy or a genuine federalism and rewriting is the only way.
According to SHAN report of 23 September 2013, U Ko Ni, who is a lawyer pointed out, during his speech at the Shan-Kayah-Mon Trust-building for Peace forum held in Taunggyi, whether the 2008 constitution is democratic or not can be determined by answering two following questions:
The extent of the participation of the people
To whom power was transferred to
To the first question, his answer was that it was clear the people’s wishes and participation was never taken into consideration:
- The National Convention, held in 1993 to lay down the basic principles of the constitution, was organized by the military with its handpicked delegates
- In 1996, a law was issued threatening people with imprisonment engaging in constitutional discussions outside the National Convention
- During the 2008 referendum, many had chosen not to cast votes while several others voted against the draft. It was nevertheless ratified by the military saying more than 92% had voted in favor.
As for the second question, the constitution says sovereign powers belong to the people. However, it was negated by other articles:
- 25% of military appointed representatives at all levels of the legislature
- The Executive does not have any say in the appointment of defense, home and border affairs ministers
- The military also conducts its independent judiciary
- No matter how many people want to amend the constitution, it must be approved by “more than 75%” of the Union Assembly representatives
Moreover, although the constitution stipulates that the country is a Union, the Chief Minister of each state is appointed by the President and state governments are run by the home ministry. “Chapters 4, 5 and 6 need to be amended to straighten out things,” he said.
According to The Myanmar Times report of April 22, 2016: “The NLD has tried twice to amend the constitution within parliament but both times it failed. So I think the NLD will not choose the same way again. They will consider writing a new one instead of wasting time trying to amend [the constitution],” U Ko Ni said.
“If the military still focuses on protecting its interests, it will be impossible to change any part of the constitution within parliament. That’s why writing a new one is the best way to pursue a democratic constitution.”
Another outstanding performance of his unwavering loyalty to his party, that was not necessary politically correct, is the NLD use of Presidential power to name State and Regional Ministers without having to yield to the choice of the State citizens’ concern or political parties that might have more seats than the NLD.
The point to be noted here is not the inappropriate move of the NLD, which it should have given in to the demand of endorsing State Chief Ministers from the Arakan National Party (ANP) and Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) ethnic political parties in Arakan and Shan States respectively, but his loyalty to the NLD as a staunch party soldier.
The onerous here is that the NLD should show solidarity to the ethnic parties as long time allied during its opposition days under military rule and let go the 2008 constitutional privilege to name Chief State Minsters.
In a Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) debate program a few months earlier, when asked to explain the NLD move on Chief State Ministers’ appointment of its party members and not the ones from ethnic parties, he was trying to defend the NLD by pointing out that it was legally in order to make use of the Presidential power to install the two NLD State Ministers, with a dead face, although he was visibly embarrassed when the moderator cracked a joke saying: “So it means although the 2008 Constitution is bad and need to be amended, NLD would make use of the clause that benefit the party,” or something to that affect.
Whatever the case, U Ko Ni would be remembered as a brave true democrat, brilliant lawyer and politician that had done his part without reservation until his last days and for this all of us should be really thankful.
When U Win Htein recently told The Myanmar Times, “It is a very sorrowful thing for Myanmar, and a very big loss for the country, I have to say,” we all could only agree to it and should try to carry on his unfinished job of democratization and building an agreeable federal union for everyone, to repay for what he had sacrificed and done for all of us.
May U Ko Ni’s soul rest in peace.