Mon 3 Feb 2014
Filed under: DASSK,Inside Burma,Naypyitaw,News
A committee evaluating changes to Myanmar’s constitution found resistance to opening the door for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to assume the presidency, underscoring the hurdles to her political ambitions.
The question mark surrounding whether Ms. Suu Kyi will be able to run for president is considered the defining political issue leading up to Myanmar’s general elections, scheduled for 2015.
This initial report was produced by a 109-member parliamentary committee tasked with collecting suggestions from various stakeholders—including from political parties and the military—on what should be amended within the constitution.
The committee said it received more than 28,000 letters following its call for comment on the proposed changes, drafted in 2008 by the junta that ran Myanmar at the time. The document, drafted by military generals who kept Ms. Suu Kyi under house arrest for over a decade, includes a clause that prevents anyone with foreign family members from assuming the presidency or vice-presidency. The Nobel laureate, who was married to a British national and has two foreign sons, is widely revered and considered the strongest presidential candidate, should she be cleared to run for the post.
But of these letters, the ones that opposed making changes to allow Ms. Suu Kyi to run or dismantle the provision that guarantees a place in politics for Myanmar’s military received more than 100,000 signatures. Conversely, only 592 signatures were in favor of scrapping the section on presidential qualifications that disqualify Ms. Suu Kyi.
The committee will send Parliament its recommendations on changes. It remains unclear how or when the Parliament might act on any constitutional changes.
The initial report, released to Parliament on Friday, isn’t binding, nor is it a formal recommendation. But the task of collecting suggestions on potential changes for the constitution was the first of its kind since a nominally civilian government took the helm in 2011 after six decades of military rule, and is the first temperature-taking exercise of sentiments around these crucial changes.
“It is clear that there is resistance to amending the clause [on presidential qualifications], something Aung San Suu Kyi has been pushing hard for,” said Richard Horsey, a Yangon-based political analyst.Ms. Suu Kyi, who recently traveled across Myanmar to Chin, Shan and Karen states, has made constitutional change the priority of her party. Her calls have also received significant backing outside Myanmar’s borders, with governments including the U.S. and U.K.
Mr. Horsey, like many other analysts, had been predicting that the military, which holds 25% of seats in parliament, might use its veto powers to block a change in the constitution that would allow Ms. Suu Kyi to run. But, he added, the report indicates that the issue may not “even get to the stage of being voted on in the legislature.”
Any constitutional amendment requires 75% of parliamentary votes in agreement.
The committee will deliver a formal report at an unspecified time to a separate parliamentary panel, providing more specific recommendations and analysis on changes to the constitution.
Representatives from Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party on Sunday dismissed the letters, saying they reflected an organized government movement.
“There were no reasons given as to why they want to keep article 59f, only signatures,” said Zaw Myint Oo, a NLD member of parliament who sits on the committee looking at constitutional reform. “The process has no transparency—if our party chairman, Aung San Suu Kyi, went on similar campaigns, we can get more signatures to change this section.”