Aung San Suu Kyi Eyes Leading in Myanmar Despite Constitutional Ban

2015-11-05
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Myanmar opposition party leader Aung San Su Kyi holds a final press conference before the general elections in Yangon, Nov. 5, 2015.
Myanmar opposition party leader Aung San Su Kyi holds a final press conference before the general elections in Yangon, Nov. 5, 2015.
RFA

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will occupy a position above the president should her party win nationwide general elections on Sunday, circumventing a constitutional barrier that prevents her from assuming the country’s top political office.

“We’ll have somebody who is prepared to represent the NLD [National League for Democracy] as a president, but I will make all the proper and important decisions with regard to government,” she told roughly 200 reporters during a press conference on Thursday in the garden of her home in the commercial capital Yangon.

“I’ll run the government, and we’ll have a president who will work in accordance with the policies of the NLD,” she said.

The current constitution drafted under the previous military junta in 2008 bars the NLD’s 70-year-old chairwoman from becoming president because she has foreign-born relatives. Her two sons are British nationals, as was her late husband.

Aung San Suu Kyi spearheaded efforts earlier this year to change the constitution to limit the power of military lawmakers, who are appointed rather than elected, and add amendments that would allow her to assume the presidency.

Parliament, however, voted down the proposed changes.

“Constitutions are made by people and they are not eternal,” she said. “There is no law that says that constitutions have to be eternal. Even in this constitution there are provisions for changing it, for amending it, with great difficulty, I admit. But I do not think that it is something that we should see as an impossible obstacle.”

The Nobel laureate has pledged to deliver good governance, ensure transparency, and revamp the existing ineffective administrative system if her party wins the elections.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who is contesting a seat representing her rural hamlet of Kawhmu south of  Yangon, began her campaign rally almost two months ago.

Enjoying a widespread following throughout Myanmar, she has urged voters to cast ballots to remove President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government, which took power from the former military regime in 2011, and usher development into the impoverished region with the help of her NLD party.

“I do not believe in persecution and revenge; I’ve always said — and not just me, but the NLD as its official policy from the very beginning has said — that national reconciliation will be the foundation of our movement for democracy,” Aung San Suu Kyi said.

The NLD, however, has raised doubts about the prospect of free and fair elections, given errors and omissions on current voter lists.

“It's certainly not a great democratic transition, but whether it is or not, we will have to see after the elections, because as I said already the election process is proving to be less than totally free and fair,” she  said.

Supporters of Myanmar's National League for Democracy party set up a stage outside the main train station before a rally in Yangon, Nov. 5, 2015. Credit: AFP
Supporters of Myanmar's National League for Democracy party set up a stage outside the main train station before a rally in Yangon, Nov. 5, 2015. AFP
The Rohingya question

When asked about the “genocide” of the Rohingya Muslims, who live in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, Aung San Suu Kyi said it was “very important that we should not exaggerate the problems in this country.”

“I'm not saying that this is a small problem,” she said. “I would promise everybody who is living in this country proper protection in accordance with the law and in accordance with the norms of human rights.”

A recent legal analysis prepared by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School for the nongovernmental organization Fortify Rights found “strong evidence” that the Myanmar government is carrying out genocide against the minority ethnic group, which is protected under the U.N.’s Genocide Convention.

The NGO has called on the United Nations to launch an independent investigation into government-sponsored genocide against ethnic Rohingyas in Myanmar — an allegation  that politicians in the Southeast Asian nation have denied.

The Myanmar government views the Rohingyas as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refers to them as “Bengalis,” although many have lived there for generations.

It has tried to prevent Rohingya births through legislation, denied more than one million Rohingyas freedom of movement, and has confined at least 140,000 displaced by communal violence to more than 60 internment camps in Rakhine state, Fortify Rights said.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized for not speaking out about the plight of the persecuted Rohingyas, who have left Myanmar in droves in recent years in search of better lives in other Southeast Asian countries.

Thousands of Rohingyas were found stranded at sea earlier this year after their crews had abandoned them on boats, and activists who support them have warned that new waves of refugees could start leaving the area again.

More than 1,000 candidates

The NLD is fielding more than 1,000 candidates for the elections, which will determine representatives for both houses of parliament as well as regional chambers for the next five years, while the military-backed, ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has put forth slightly fewer.

Even if the NLD receives 100 percent of the vote, its candidates would control only 75 percent of the seats in parliament, because 25 percent automatically goes to military representatives.

“Even if we win 100 percent, we would like to make it a government of national reconciliation in order to set a good precedent for our country, that it should not be a zero-sum game of winner taking all and loser losing everything,” Aung San Suu Kyi said. “This is not what democracy should be about.”

The NLD won elections in 1990 by a landslide, but the military junta ruling Myanmar at the time did not acknowledge the victory and kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for almost 15 years between July 1989 and November 2010.

The NLD boycotted the last general elections in 2010 held during military rule, which were criticized as being rigged in favor of the USDP.

Election observers

The European Union has sent 62 observers to Myanmar to monitor voting across the country on Sunday, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, the chief observer of the EU mission and vice president of the European Parliament, told a press conference on Thursday in Yangon.

A total of 150 observers from 28 countries, including Norway, Switzerland and Canada, will be stationed at polling stations on Sunday. The United States-based Carter Center will also send a mission to observe the elections.

“[The] instructions were to observe and analyze and report, but never to interfere in the process,” Lambsdorff said. “These are the elections of the Myanmar people, and we are observers. We will not interfere.”

About 32 million people from Myanmar’s population of more than 53 million are eligible to vote in the elections, which observers believe the NLD will win and which will largely determine where Myanmar is headed in its transformation from an authoritarian nation to a democratic one.

By Khin Maung Soe and Thiha Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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