Religion and Political and Legal Structures

The legislative branch is comprised of a National Parliament (Pyidaungsu Hluttaw), itself separated into a House of Representatives (Pyithy Hluttaw) and Senate (Amyotha Hluttaw). The House of Representatives has 440 seats, 330 of which are elected representatives and 110 of which are reserved for military personnel appointed by the Commander in Chief of the Defense Services. The Senate has 224 seats, including 168 elected representatives and 56 military appointees.1

Burmese law is derived from English common law, customary law, the Constitution of Myanmar, and enacted legislation. An additional sociocultural source of legalistic material is the pre-colonial dhammasata, a series of ethical and legal stories, rules, and lists compiled from various Sanskrit and Pali sources, which give information on aspects of life such as gender relations, economic transactions, and monastic inheritance. While the texts are not explicitly religious, they presume that Myanmar’s society is Buddhist, and the dhammasata are generally considered Buddhist law. References to the dhammasata are relatively rare compared to other sources of law in modern Myanmar, but it still undergirds many aspects of customary law.2

The Burmese constitution grants rights to freedom of religion, but these freedoms are restricted by other constitutional articles, as well as laws and government policies which have been directly enacted and enforced by the Burmese government. For example, anti- discrimination laws do not apply to ethnic minorities that aren’t recognized by the 1982 Citizenship Law. The government actively promotes Theravada Buddhism over other forms of religious expression and oversees restrictions on non-Buddhist religious practice, especially in ethnic minority communities. Adherence to Buddhism is an unwritten rule of advancement in government and military positions. The government also continues to monitor and limit expression among members of the Sangha—who are not permitted to vote—such that Buddhist and other religious groups face restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and association.3 More recently, in the spring of 2015, four laws known collectively as the Race and Religion Protection Laws, were adopted by the  Parliament and signed by then president Thein Sein, despite containing provisions that discriminated against religious minorities and women.4

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1 Kyaw Hla Win, Md. Hassan Ahmed and Md. Ershadul Karim, “The Legal System of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar in a Nutshell” NYU Law Global, September 2013, accessed March 27, 2014,
2 Andrew Huxley, “The Important of the Dhammathats in Burmese Law and Culture,” The Journal of Burma Studies, Vol. 1 (1997): 1-17.
3 “Burma,” International Religious Freedom Report, U.S. State Department (2012), accessed March 27, 2014,
4 “Myanmar 2015/2016,” Amnesty International, accessed March 14, 2016,

See also: Myanmar