Calls for constitutional reform persist in many countries around the global. Constitutional design and participation in constitution-making presents a host of challenges in divided societies. Demands for constitutional change are often perceived as an unwanted critique of the current political regime and for this reason are highly controversial. My presentation will consider the origins of Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution, the role of the military in its drafting and implementation, and the way this Constitution limits the state. In doing so, I will examine the principles and ideas that animate the Constitution and affect what Aung San Suu Kyi’s government can do. This is critically important given the ongoing crisis in northern Rakhine State. Contrary to analysis that priorities personalities and power plays, I suggest that Myanmar also needs to be understood through the lens of the Constitution and the structures and rules it embodies. I argue that the 2008 Constitution is an important part of the ‘military-state’ in Myanmar. This military-state has three components as evident from the text and from constitutional practice: the leading role of the military in national politics; the ideology of the three meta principles of military constitutional governance; and the concept of cooperative centralism that uses ‘disciplined’ democracy to control and contain the Union. This presentation is based on my forthcoming book, The Constitution of Myanmar (Hart, 2019). I demonstrate the new lines of inquiry that Myanmar can open up in the field of comparative constitutional law and politics, and the way that constitutional law in Myanmar calls us to pay greater attention to constitutional legacies.
Dr Melissa Crouch is a Senior Lecturer at the Law School, the University of New South Wales, Sydney. She obtained her BA/LLB and PhD from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked at the University of Melbourne, the National University of Singapore and Monash University. Her research contributes to the field of Comparative Constitutional Law; Law and Development; and Law and Religion, with a particular focus on socio-legal research in Southeast Asia. She is currently Chief Investigator on an ARC Discovery Grant on "Constitutional Change in Authoritarian Regimes" (2018-2020). Melissa is the author of Law and Religion in Indonesia: Conflict and the Courts in West Java (Routledge, 2014), and editor of Law, Society and Transition in Myanmar (2014); 'Islam and the State in Myanmar (OUP 2016); The Business of Transition: Law, Development and Economics in Myanmar (CUP 2017); and Courts, Power and Legal Process in Indonesia (forthcoming). Her work has appeared in a range of peer-reviewed journals including the International Journal of Constitutional Law, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Sydney Law Review and Asian Studies Review. Melissa has been invited to work with international and local organizations in Myanmar on constitutional and administrative law reforms, and legal education. She leads the UNSW Law Southeast Asia engagement strategy and is the Myanmar Academic Lead for the UNSW Institute for Global Development. Melissa is the author of a forthcoming book on The Constitution of Myanmar (Hart Publishing 2019).