Myanmar's parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann announced Monday that he will run for president in 2015, probably facing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has also expressed interest in the top government post.
Shwe Mann, who took over last month from incumbent President Thein Sein as head of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), said he wants the most powerful post in the country because he feels he is in a better position to unite the various ethnic groups, achieve peace and national reconciliation, and defend the rule of law in the country.
"I will run for president because it is the key post to work for the betterment of the country and the people’s interest," he told RFA's Myanmar Service during a visit to Washington.
"If there were a position higher than or more important than the president, I would want that post," said Shwe Mann, who was previously the third-highest-ranking member of Myanmar's military junta, which had ruled the country for nearly five decades until 2011.
"I believe that if I became president, I could do more than the others to achieve unity among ethnic groups, national reconciliation, rule of law, regional stability, and peace."
Shwe Mann's announcement came as little surprise, as many had expected the ambitious politician to throw his hat into the ring for the presidential race, but this is the first time he had spoken at length about his political ambitions.
Hotly contested race
Thein Sein, who took office in March 2010 after landmark elections, has left open the possibility of seeking another term in office in the 2015 election, saying his choice will depend “on the needs of the country.”
If Thein Sein retires, many expect the presidential race to be hotly contested between Shwe Mann and Aung San Suu Kyi, who last week also confirmed she wants to run for president.
But Aung San Suu Kyi said that Myanmar’s constitution, written in 2008 during the military junta regime that held the Nobel laureate under house arrest for years, has to be amended for her to bid for the presidency.
The charter has a provision blocking anyone whose spouse or children are foreign citizens from becoming president. Aung San Suu Kyi's two sons with her late British husband hold U.K. citizenship, and the clause is widely believed to be targeted at her.
Amending the constitution
But Shwe Mann told RFA that Myanmar's parliament will set up a commission soon to review the constitution, and that if it feels the charter should be amended to pave the way for Aung San Suu Kyi to run for president, the legislature would back the change.
"Three committees in parliament have submitted a proposal to establish a commission to amend the constitution, and this proposal was approved. So, we will establish a commission soon," he said.
"According to this report, we will have to amend, scrap, or replace some points in the 2008 constitution. If the commission submits proposals, including the possibility of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi being able to contest as president, then parliament will support work on it," he said, using an honorific with Aung San Suu Kyi's name.
He said any revision of the constitution will have to take into consideration not only Aung San Suu Kyi's case but the interest of all citizens.
Aung San Suu Kyi had said last week that she also wants the constitution amended to do away with the military’s mandatory 25 percent quota in parliament.
A constitutional amendment requires at least 75 percent approval in parliament. But together, the military and Shwe Mann's military-backed USDP control more than 80 percent of the seats.
Shwe Mann sidestepped a question on whether he thought Myanmar's future would be brighter under Aung San Suu Kyi.
"Everybody works for the betterment of the country when he or she becomes a leader. I believe that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has much goodwill and she wants to develop the country, but we should wait and see and consider her plans and the political situation."
Biggest challenge to reforms
Shwe Mann, together with Thein Sein, has been a driving force for reforms in Myanmar. The two were top generals in the junta, but though Thein Sein was prime minister at the time, he was subordinate to Shwe Mann.
Asked what was the biggest challenge to reforms, Shwe Mann said the mindset of the people has to be changed so that they could use democracy as a vehicle for progress.
"The biggest challenge is changing the mindset and attitude. If people do not understand the essence of democracy, there will be more disadvantages than advantages."
Shwe Mann, speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw—the lower house of Myanmar's parliament—arrived in Washington on Sunday for a nine-day visit during which he will hold talks with U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, among other leading legislators.
Reported by Kyaw Kyaw Aung for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.