Myanmar’s parliament yesterday ousted nine constitutional court judges in the culmination of a long-running standoff that observers say exposed growing political rivalry within the regime.
Three-quarters of lower house lawmakers voted to impeach the members of the Constitutional Tribunal, whose duties include interpreting provisions under a controversial 2008 charter drawn up by the former junta, and vetting new laws to ensure they conform with the text.
The upper house voted for the impeachment last month.
The row erupted after the court, in response to a request by Burmese President Thein Sein to study the issue, issued an order in February that limited the power of parliamentary committees and commissions to summon ministers for questioning.
It was seen as the country’s first major political crisis since decades of military rule ended last year, pitting the government against the parliament — and, in particular, lower house speaker Shwe Mann, a top regime figure and former general considered a possible contender to replace Thein Sein when he retires.
“Shwe Mann needs to distinguish himself from the military system and the old guard. I don’t know if he’s going to win or not, but he’s taking a lot of risk,” said a Yangon-based analyst who did not want to be named.
Since taking office last year, former general Thein Sein has overseen a number of dramatic changes, such as the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.
However, progress has been slower on the legislative front, in part because of the power struggle between the presidency and the parliament, observers say.
The impeachment was supported by all political parties, including the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) — which has close ties to the military — as well as Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
In a speech to parliament before the vote, USDP lawmaker Soe Yin said there was a need for “checks and balances” within the new political system.
“To attack the parliament is to attack the people,” he said.
Only the unelected military representatives who occupy one quarter of the seats in the legislature opposed the impeachment.
Thein Sein and the two house speakers must now choose nine new judges and submit the list to lawmakers for approval.
A government minister who asked not to be identified said he believed the dispute was “not a threat to the democratization process.”
When the new regime took power early last year, “people thought the parliament would be a rubber-stamp body,” he said.
However, “we have to come to the parliament again and again and they ask us a lot of questions,” he said. “Their job is to scrutinize us. They have to review our policies. So we should not complain.”