No one suggested that Myanmar’s transition from decades of military rule to a freely elected parliamentary system would be easy, but few thought the parliament would push so quickly and so hard for the power it should have.
The parliament has fired all nine members of the constitutional court. In doing so, they butted head with the unelected government that is a hold-over from the military junta that ruled for over 20 years. They asserted that the courts must be independent of the executive branch if they are to be trustworthy. The government backed down from a confrontation over this issue.
The battle was joined in March when the court tried to limit the power of the new parliamentary committees and commissions to exercise oversight authority on the executive branch. President Thein Sein had asked the court to review the issue of parliamentary oversight. His request and the court’s decision infuriated the parliament, and they began impeachment proceedings against the justices. In April, a by-election tipped the balance in the parliament to the reformers, including the party of Aung San Suu Kyi. Two-thirds of the lower house voted for impeachment and last month the upper house voted for it as well. Rather than go through the process of impeachment, the justices resigned and President Sein accepted their resignations.
An independent judiciary is vital to a democracy, and the Myanmar parliament is determined to create an independent judiciary.
(Author’s note: The official name of the country is the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Some countries, including Great Britain, have not accepted the name change and still refer to the country as the Union of Burma. In common usage, they are shortened to Myanmar and Burma. I prefer the official name.)