Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi marked her party’s founding anniversary Friday with a fresh call to reform the country’s constitution, warning that the general elections in 2015 “cannot be fair” without changes to the army-written charter.
Speaking to reporters at her National League for Democracy’s silver jubilee in Yangon, the Nobel Laureate urged speedy amendments to the 2008 constitution, which is a major obstacle to her bid for the presidency.
"If the constitution is not amended, the 2015 election cannot be free or fair,” she said.
“It might be free but it cannot be fair.”
The constitution, written under Myanmar’s former military regime, contains provisions that make Aung San Suu Kyi ineligible for the presidency and reserve a quarter of seats in parliament for military representatives.
A 109-member parliamentary review committee has been set up to examine amendment proposals, including calls to remove those sections and to add ones allowing ethnic states greater autonomy.
Myanmar ruling party officials have mostly expressed support for constitutional amendments, but with elections just two years away, some observers say the process so far has been slow.
Aung San Suu Kyi said that without constitutional reform before the 2015 polls, an unfair election could result in a “fake democracy.”
Changes to the charter would also help pave the way for peace with the country’s ethnic minority rebels, since “none of the ethnic groups accepts" the document, she said.
Collaboration with the military
While calling for amendments that would reduce the military’s power, she urged Myanmar’s civil society groups to collaborate more with the military, saying cooperation is crucial to national reconciliation following decades under military rule.
“I am not satisfied because there has been almost no contact between the army [and civil society groups] so far,” she said.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who was long held under house arrest by the former junta regime, and her party joined parliament last year after landmark by-elections held following negotiations with the quasi-civilian government of President Thein Sein.
On Friday, hundreds of party members and foreign diplomats crammed the NLD headquarters in Yangon to commemorate the founding of the party.
NLD members gather at the party's headquarters in Yangon for a ceremony marking its 25th anniversary, Sept. 27, 2013. Photo credit: RFA.
Thanking supporters in a speech at the ceremony, Aung San Suu Kyi said her party wants to win the next general election but also needs to keep in mind longer-term priorities beyond 2015.
“As the saying goes, normal politicians just think about next election, but wise politicians think about next generation. I don’t want NLD to only think about the next election.”
“Of course, we want to win the election because then we will have the power to work for the next generation,” she said.
The NLD, which was founded in 1988 following a popular uprising against the military junta that left thousands dead, had won elections in 1990 by a landslide but was barred by the military junta from taking office.
Last year it swept nearly all of the parliamentary seats it took in the by-elections and is expected to make a strong showing in 2015.Pace of reforms
But parliament is still dominated by Thein Sein’s military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and military members.
A constitutional amendment requires at least 75 percent approval in parliament before it is put to a national referendum, but together, the military and the USDP control more than 80 percent of legislative seats.
Thein Sein has enacted sweeping reforms, but Aung San Suu Kyi said many people have yet to feel tangible effects of the changes.
Aung San Suu Kyi said her party must bear some of the responsibility for the slow pace of change and work to improve people’s everyday lives.
“We have to confess that our people’s lives haven’t gotten better yet. All—including the NLD, the people, and especially the government—have the responsibility for this.”
Supporters held ceremonies commemorating the party’s anniversary in cities across the country, where they recalled the brutal suppression the NLD had faced under the former junta regime and expressed hope for a brighter future.
“We are happy that the NLD has been able to survive for 25 years, but we are sad looking back at the people who sacrificed their lives for the party,” NLD member Hla Saung told supporters at a ceremony in Mon state.
“I am proud of my party that has faced many difficulties for a long time and is still alive because of the people’s support,” NLD lawmaker Khin Htay Kywe told a ceremony in Mawlamyaing southeast of Yangon.
Reported by Sai Tun, Aung Lwin, and Kyaw Tun Naing for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.