Suu Kyi: Charter Reform for Democratic Myanmar Depends on Military Chief

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Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi walks through the gardens of Government House in Sydney, Nov. 27, 2013.
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi walks through the gardens of Government House in Sydney, Nov. 27, 2013.

Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Wednesday that it was critical for the country’s powerful armed forces chief to back demands for changes to the constitution, which makes her ineligible for the presidency and reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for military representatives.

Speaking while on a trip to Australia, the 68-year-old Nobel laureate told a crowd at the Sydney Opera House that Myanmar had still not “successfully taken the path to reform” because the military-written 2008 constitution bars the country from becoming a democracy.

She said that Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing holds great sway on the proposed constitutional reforms considering the fact that the current charter reserves 25 percent of seats in parliament for members of the military and requires a 75 percent parliament majority for a referendum on charter changes.

“The commander-in-chief at any time can decide who represents the military in the legislature. That means, in effect, that the commander-in-chief decides whether or not the constitution can be amended,” she said.

“How can you call a constitution democratic when it can be amended or not amended in accordance with the will of one man who is in an unelected post?”

She said the procedures for making any constitutional amendments in Myanmar were among the most rigid in the world and were just one of many parts of the charter that render it “totally undemocratic.”

“This constitution is preventing our country from becoming a truly democratic nation. We cannot have genuine democracy under such a constitution.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, a longtime prodemocracy campaigner who spent years under house arrest during the former military junta regime, joined parliament last year as the country embraced a series of reforms introduced by President Thein Sein following decades of military rule.

The constitution, which bars her from becoming president on the grounds that her children are British citizens, is a major obstacle to her bid for the country’s top post in the next general elections in 2015.

Any Myanmar national whose relatives are foreign citizens or hold foreign citizenship is not qualified to serve as president or vice-president, the constitution says, in a clause some believe was written by the generals specifically to bar her from the position.

Parliamentary review

Her National League for Democracy party has called for sweeping changes to the document, which is currently under review by parliament.

Aung San Suu Kyi said that unless the country moves forward with constitutional reform, it cannot be considered to be working toward democracy.  

“Those of you who think that Burma has successfully taken the path to reform are mistaken,” she said, using another name for Myanmar.

“If Burma is truly to be on the road to democracy, we have to amend this constitution.”

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.

A 109-member committee to review whether the document should be amended or redrawn was formed in June.

It is currently accepting proposals and will report on them in Januarys, a month later than originally scheduled after it extended the deadline earlier this month.

Ethnic-based political parties in Myanmar and armed ethnic rebel groups negotiating cease-fire agreements with the government after decades of military conflict have called for amendments that allow ethnic groups and states greater autonomy.

Some political analysts have said that the military regime drew up the charter with the aim of ensuring its grip on power by including provisions that protected the junta leaders from being accountable for their actions, stifling democracy, and curbing the rights of minority ethnic groups.

In September, Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann of the military-backed, ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party said the constitution was designed to foster a smooth transfer of power to a civilian government, dismissing suggestions the generals in fact wanted to maintain their grip on power through the charter.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.





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