Suu Kyi urges Myanmar’s army to back constitutional reform

Opposition leader and Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi urges military to aid in amending the country's constitution, allowing her to stand for president in forthcoming elections

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 January, 2014, 8:33pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 January, 2014, 8:33pm

Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Saturday called on the powerful military to get involved in reforming the country’s junta-era constitution, which currently bars her from becoming president.

The Nobel laureate, who has repeatedly asserted her readiness to take on the top political job, said the nation’s “tatmadaw” army was “essential” in amending the charter, which is currently being debated by a parliamentary panel that includes soldiers.

“The tatmadaw must not remain in a dilemma about whether to take part in amending the constitution. It must take part in it,” she told members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) at a ceremony to mark Myanmar’s independence from colonial rule.

Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, a former general who has won international praise for reforms since he took power in 2011, on Thursday lent his support to constitutional reform in a monthly speech published in state media.

He also said he supported amending provisions which exclude anyone whose spouse or children are overseas citizens from becoming president – a clause widely believed to be targeted at Suu Kyi, whose two sons are British.

“I would not want restrictions being imposed on the right of any citizen to become the leader of the country,” Thein Sein said.

“I would not want restrictions being imposed on the right of any citizen to become the leader of the country.”
Myanmar's President Thein Sein

The charter change issue is rising to the fore as Myanmar prepares for key parliamentary elections, seen as a definitive test of whether the military is willing to loosen its grip on power.

The country’s president is currently selected by the legislature.

Suu Kyi has ramped up her campaign for a change to the 2008 constitution, which also ring-fences a quarter of the seats in parliament for unelected military personnel.

“We have to accept openly that the constitution is not fair, not in accordance with democratic standards and not a charter that is good for our country’s future,” she said on Saturday.

Any change to the charter needs the support of over 75 per cent of the legislature, so at least some soldiers would have to vote for the reforms.

The NLD last week said it would not boycott the poll, even without a constitutional amendment first.

Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest under military rule in Myanmar, before she was freed after controversial elections in 2010 that her party boycotted.

Since then Thein Sein has pushed through sweeping changes, including welcoming Suu Kyi and her party into parliament following landmark by-elections in 2012.

The parliamentary panel is expected to receive reform suggestions from the opposition and ruling party in the coming days, and is due to report its recommendations at the end of January.