Burmese MPs force out constitutional court judges

Burma parliament Burmese lawmakers have fiercely resisted the ruling by the constitutional court

MPs in Burma have forced out all nine judges of the constitutional court, in a row pitting the government against the parliament created as part of political reforms.

State media said that President Thein Sein had accepted the resignations.

The impeachment was supported by the governing USDP - which has close ties to the military - as well as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party.

Thein Sein's government took office in 2011 after the military ceded power.

The current row erupted in March when the court issued an order limiting the power of parliamentary committees and commissions, meaning, for example, that parliament would not be able to summon government ministers for questioning.

What was predicted to be a subservient parliament has proved to be anything but.

By voting to impeach all nine judges on the constitutional court, MPs have directly challenged article 324 of the constitution which states that the court's rulings on the constitution are final.

In March the court ruled that parliamentary committees do not enjoy the same "national" status as the government, so could not overrule the government - that verdict was what started the impeachment proceedings.

It is worth pointing out that the court has ruled against the government in the past, and that six of the nine judges were chosen by the two speakers of the lower and upper houses of parliament.

Burma is taking its first steps towards accountable democratic government after 50 years of authoritarian rule, so debate and uncertainty over where the balance of power lies are inevitable.

But this is a very serious dispute to be having between two of the most important national institutions so early in the reform process.

President Thein Sein had asked it to study the issue.

However, the order enraged MPs.

More than two-thirds of the lower house backed the impeachment, which was approved by the upper house last month.

Soe Win Than of the BBC's Burmese Service says this standoff is the first of its kind in Burma since the recent reform process began.

Tensions have been brewing for some time between the government and parliament, he says, and in this showdown parliament won, underlining its growing importance.

The situation also highlights how the democratic institutions are still defining their roles in the new Burma after years of military rule, our correspondent adds.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed from house arrest in late 2010, is one of 43 members of the National League for Democracy in parliament.

She was elected after historic by-elections in April - a vote that took place amid a series of political reforms initiated by the military-backed government.

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