THE AFTERMATH OF U KO NI’S ASSASSINATION: Constitutional conundrum remains to be resolved

  • Written by Sai Wansai/ S.H.A.N
  • Published in Op-ed

Days after U Ko Ni’s assassination the police department, and for that reason the home ministry, hasn’t come up with an explanation or press conference to clear the air of cacophony among the media and also the general public.

Instead reportedly, on February 2, Rangoon Region Police Chief Brigadier-General Win Naing told Myanmar Now that national police headquarters had taken control of the investigation and would coordinate with the Military in clarification of the case.

In the mean time, Zaw Htay presidential spokesperson said that due to the delicate nature which could jeopardize the progress of investigation procedure and the need to counter-check the investigation outcomes, no press briefing of the case could be given for the moment, but would do so as soon as the situation permits and that the public should be patient.

News making the rounds started out with a leaked of police interrogation report on the case that was said to have found it’s way into social media, which were downloaded from Viber, an internet messaging app widely used in Burma, by unauthorized parties.

Since then another suspect, Aung Win Zaw, was apprehended as being a mastermind behind the assassination, other than the original lone killer, Kyi Linn, caught at the assassination scene, with the help of the taxi drivers and the police at the vicinity.

Statements on the condemnation of this assassination act and urging the government to uncover the plot at its roots have been aired, ranging from Burma’s Presidential Office, Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, Arakan National Council, human rights groups, civil society organizations, and last but not least, the United Nations’ personalities like Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma Ms. Yanghee Lee and former UN general secretary Kofi Annan, among others.

But the public and media scrutiny that Aung San Suu Kyi, de facto leader of the government and NLD party boss, silence on the assassination of its legal brain U Ko Ni and failure even to appear before the funeral has irked and grudgingly noticed by many, even though the media has chosen not to blow out the controversial behavior of Suu Kyi and kept under-wrap for reasons unknown. But it is most probably an act of self-censorship, given the sensitive political nature surrounding the assassination case.

Let us look at this Suu Kyi’s behavior in the light of what might be political consideration and navigation of the troubled political waters, which many believe that one false move could put the country back to the square one. In doing so, the political conviction and advocacy of U Ko Ni that centers around constitutional amendment needs to be delved upon as a potential triggering point of his assassination.

Handling the constitutional reform

Everybody knows that constitutional amendment and change is the core election campaign slogan of the Nation League for Democracy (NLD), by which the party came into the office some ten months ago is undeniable.

Indeed, it has tried to do just that during the NLD days as an opposition but failed, due to the constraint of the Military-drafted, 2008 Constitution, which it enables the Military to be vested with veto power, as it is allotted with 25% MP seats in all levels of parliament, apart from having the power to appoint and control the three ministries of home, defense and border affairs.

According to the constitution, over 75% of the union parliamentarians have to agree to any crucial amendment proposal to alter the constitution, even to sail through the first motion. In other words, the constitution is unamendable.

But lately, after a few months in power, Suu Kyi began to navigate the party from pushing for immediate constitutional change to tactical drawback, advocating “achievement of peace first before embarking on constitutional amendment” as a back-burner, which have angered the electorate and the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities that have pinned the hope on Suu Kyi and her party for a speedy change, to free them from the clutch of the Military that they have to endure for decades.

Her standard argument for putting the amendment push behind has been not to endanger the public safety and advocated for an evolutionary change, which would mean to let the Military in decision-making position for a longer time to come. In other words, the continuation of the two-tier administration system, where the Military makes decisions on the life and death issues of the country, especially where the ethnic conflict and peace process are concerned, and Suu Kyi’s NLD regime taking the less crucial ceremonial tasks as a figure head administrator.

Within the NLD, it’s legal mind, the deceased U Ko Ni was for the amendment and even rewriting the constitution, while the rest of the leadership seems to be falling in line with Suu Kyi’s argument of evolutionary change, except for the late U Win Tin, a founding member of the NLD, who had always spoken his mind for total rewriting, as he was convinced that no federal democracy is forthcoming without an appropriate constitutional change.

Four political eras according to U Ko Ni

In 2014, when U Ko Ni was on his visit to Singapore told his Burmese expatriate audience at a seminar that Burma could be divided into four political eras: feudal, colonial, democracy and dictatorial.

He said the first two feudal and colonial eras didn’t represent the people, as the former treated the people and the country as its personal belonging and all were at the mercy of one absolute monarch, at any given time. The latter, he said, was only answerable to the government in Britain through colonial administration and was also the same as the feudal one, where the people had no say whatsoever.

The third democracy era, he said was the most glorious and happy moment of the country, even though it lasted just a little over a decade. He stressed during that moment in time, Burma was endowed with economic success, high standard educational system, admirable level sporting and entertainment facilities, which neighboring countries like Thailand and India even also admired and had to take into account. He pointed out that the trend had now reversed and Burma would need decades of hard work to reach the level of Thailand and Singapore, which were far behind Burma during the 1950s to early 1960s, all because of the military dictatorship.

He stressed that such progress and harmony were possible during the democracy era, as the country was ruled by government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

The fourth military dictatorship era, he said was the darkest hours of the country and people, as sovereign power that belonged to the people and the country was robbed by the Military and governed accordingly under the successive totalitarian regimes, dominated by the Military.

He stressed that the country plunged into deep stagnation since 1962, when the Military staged a coup under the pretext that Burma was disintegrating, due to the federal amendment proposal of the ethnic nationalities to make Burma a more equitable and fair federal union. He elaborated that the then head of the government U Nu was a keen politician, as he negotiated with the ethnic nationalities to forsake the “secession clause” that was embedded in 1947 Union of Burma Constitution, in return for a genuine federal union.

However, according to U Ko Ni, the federal amendment proposal which was geared to be promulgated in the union parliament, in March was never allowed to be carried out, as the Military struck  and took over the political decision-making power in March 2, 1962.

His message was the sovereign power that was robbed had to be given back to the people and only genuine democracy could instill progress, development and bring harmony for the people and the country. This inevitably was meant that the constitution must reflect the aspirations of the people, like the federal proposal of 1962.

In short, U Ko Ni had been and was the sole legal brain left that tirelessly advocated for the change through simple majority motion of constitutional change within the NLD leadership, so that the people’s aspirations could be realized, as within the existing, Military-drafted constitutional framework no amendment could be made possible. Thus, making it quite clear that the quasi-civilian rule of the NLD government is still within the bounds of the military, if not exactly the dictatorial era.


Now the speculation is that it is possible that the idea might have existed that U Ko Ni has to be removed by those that like to maintain the status quo, as he also had a huge following, within the NLD and beyond, that simple majority motion in the parliament for constitutional change would be the way to go. And thus forcible, physical termination became a consideration for his enemies that finally was carried out.

As for the Suu Kyi being so deafeningly silent and is going about as if nothing has ever happened, it could be taken that she doesn’t know how to handle this sensitive situation or being overly cautious, laced with worries and perhaps also fear,  that the delicate balance could overturn.

At the same time, showing sympathy, anger and even asking for justice and demand to uncover the plotters that had murdered U Ko Ni might anger the status quo backers and ultra-nationalist elements within the Military, which might accelerate the full takeover of the token political power her party now is wielding. Besides rightly or wrongly, she might even believe that the evolutionary way is the way to go, rather than banking on Arab Spring-like people’s revolution that went wrong in many aspects in the Arab world.

But if one looks at just the ongoing peace process, it is quite clear that regarding the peace process, the Military is calling the shots and that the pressure on the NLD cannot be overseen, which is none other than to accept the Military stance of “negotiated surrender” and “exclusion of some three ethnic armies” that the Military dislike from participating in the peace process.

As all know, NLD from the outset has been for all-inclusiveness and peaceful negotiation through political dialogue, even though at times, Suu Kyi might be seen as appeasing the Military through remarks like blaming the Northern Alliance – Burma (NA-B) for their counter-offensive in Muse Township of Shan State, during last year November 20; and President Htin Kyaw’s doling out bravely credentials for Military troopers that have fought the ethnic armies in Shan and Kachin States.

Because of all these it is fair to say that U Ko Ni’s case is a political assassination and has to be treated as such, and it is aimed to cow or intimidate the now entrenched idea of constitutional amendment move through simple majority motion backers within the union parliament. To put it differently, to accept the evolutionary aspect of change rather than the immediate constitutional amendment, which the Military’s top brass could hardly accept or reluctant to do so, if given a choice.

It is now then up to the electorate and NLD party that has been voted in to do the job by the people, which would be the best way out –  continued status quo, immediate radical change or work out a compromise with the Military, if there is any such possibility still left to do so.