Charter Change Key to Fair Polls

The NLD leader says Burma’s current constitution will taint the country’s upcoming elections.
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University staff greet Aung San Suu Kyi (C) during her visit to Lady Sri Ram College in New Delhi, Nov. 16, 2012.
University staff greet Aung San Suu Kyi (C) during her visit to Lady Sri Ram College in New Delhi, Nov. 16, 2012.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Friday that all parties in Burma, not just parliament, should make efforts to amend the country’s constitution, warning that the current charter cannot ensure credible elections in 2015.

She said progress towards democracy in Burma would have to be linked to critical changes that have to be made to the constitution, which was written by the country’s former military regime.

Speaking in the Indian capital New Delhi, where the lawmaker arrived Tuesday on an official visit, she said, “If we want an answer to whether Burma is on the path to democracy or not, we have to see whether there is a desire to amend the constitution or not.”

“Without amending the constitution, we would not be able to say the 2015 election is free and fair. It may be free but it will not be fair,” the Nobel laureate told members of the Burmese community at the Oxford Senior Secondary School a day after talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party, said that the current constitution, crafted under the previous military junta chief Than Shwe in 2008, had “created an unfair situation” in the nation’s political system.

Based on the present constitution, Aung San Suu Kyi cannot become president of the country if the NLD, which swept the latest round of parliamentary elections in April, wins the 2015 elections. 

The constitution says any Burmese national whose relatives are foreign citizens or hold foreign citizenship is not qualified to serve as president or vice-president. Aung San Suu Kyi’s two sons hold British citizenship.

“All Burmese inside and outside [of the country], and all who want democracy for Burma, should strive to bring amendments to the constitution and should work towards [this] … I completely agree,” she said.

Like the law preventing Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president, which many suspect was specifically designed by Than Shwe to clip her political ambitions, there are other key constitutional provisions aimed at keeping the military at the levers of power and blocking the growth of democracy in the once pariah state, rights groups say.

Under the constitution, a quarter of seats in parliament are reserved for the military. In addition, the military chief has sweeping powers when a state of emergency is declared. Three key ministerial posts—interior, defense and border affairs—must be held by serving generals.

The military's past behavior also cannot be questioned as the constitution allows immunity for all actions taken by Than Shwe's junta, which has been accused of blatant human rights abuses.

By law, amendments to the constitution require the approval of 75 percent of lawmakers in parliament, which is strongly dominated by the USDP and military, leading some to question how likely it is that changes will occur before 2015.

Move to amend

In an interview on Friday with India’s Cable News Network-Indian Broadcasting Network (CNN-IBN), Aung San Suu Kyi said that the provision preventing her from taking power was not the “most important” that needed to be amended.

There are other clauses which also needed amendments to strengthen democracy, she said.

“You do not write a constitution for a country because you are against one particular person or because you are for one particular person,” she said.

She said that she had not discussed amendments to the constitution with President Thein Sein’s cabinet, but said the government is “aware” of her party’s concerns because the NLD had campaigned on the issue ahead of the parliamentary elections in April this year.

“I have discussed it with some people in the legislature and there is not so much resistance in some quarters as you might fear,” she said.

“But on the other hand, the cabinet, the president and his government as such have not as yet shown much willingness to move in that direction.”

She said that she disagreed with Thein Sein’s stance that amending the constitution was “the job of the legislature.”

“I do not think I agree with that because anybody who clearly wishes to move Burma in the proper direction of democracy should be involved in trying to amend the constitution.”

Aung San Suu Kyi said that the movement to amend the constitution would have to begin in the legislature and that she would lead such a bid.

She is set to travel to southern India to see rural development projects before winding up her trip on Sunday when she will return to Burma to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to Rangoon.

Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Thinn Thiri. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.





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