Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Wednesday that President Thein Sein was wrong to have rejected a bill approved by parliament allowing lawmakers to set up a fund of their own for development projects in their constituencies.
Thein Sein had labeled the move unconstitutional, but Aung San Suu Kyi said there was no provision in the country's constitution barring the lawmakers from launching the annual development fund that proposes to give each of the country’s 330 townships 1 billion kyat (about U.S. $102,000) to improve their communities.
"From our point of view, the reason given by the president is wrong because there is no provision in the constitution that prevents such funding," Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the opposition leader in parliament, said in an interview with RFA's Myanmar Service on its "Hard Road to Democracy" bi-weekly program.
Earlier this month, President Thein Sein wrote to parliament warning that constituency funding is unconstitutional because lawmakers would be exercising executive powers.
Thein Sein did not sign the bill, which was approved in October, and returned it to parliament, according to Saw Hla Tun, secretary of the Lower House’s Joint Bill Committee, who has been quoted saying that the committee will analyze the president’s comments and possibly resend the bill to him.
Parliamentarians have already agreed to ignore the warning and continue with the plan, The Myanmar Times reported this week, saying that about 70 townships are in the process of receiving such funding.
The bill allows MPs the right to manage development projects in their own constituencies through the yearly development fund.
Most MPs from Thein Sein's ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) also support the plan.
Lawmakers had said that under the plan, townships will be allowed to used the funds for health and education, improving electricity and drinking water supply, building roads and bridges, or other development projects.
The parliament’s plan to fund local development projects had come from USDP chairman and Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, who is eying a bid for the presidency in 2015.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also eying the nation's number one post in the 2015 polls, told RFA that the elections would be "one sided" and "unfair" if amendments are not made to the constitution by then.
She was asked to comment on reports that her National League for Democracy (NLD) party may boycott the 2015 polls if Myanmar's leaders do not push for key charter changes by then.
The constitution, written by the previous military dictatorship, bars anyone whose relatives are foreign citizens or hold foreign citizenship from serving as president or vice-president—a clause some believe was written specifically to target Aung San Suu Kyi, whose two sons have British citizenship.
"No sincere person will participate in an unfair, one-sided election by having an upper hand," Aung San Suu Kyi said, apparently referring to the ruling party. "You will not have dignity and self-respect if you dare to participate in such a competition when there is no level playing field."
A source close to the NLD indicated that Aung San Suu Kyi "will take the risk and contest" in the elections and ride on the wave of the party's popularity. The NLD won nearly all the seats it contested by a landslide in by-elections held in 2012.
USDP leaders have mostly expressed support for constitutional amendments, but with elections two years away, some observers say the process so far has been slow.
The charter reserves a quarter of seats in parliament for the military and requires a three-quarters majority for a national referendum on proposed amendments.
Ethnic-based political parties in Myanmar and armed rebel groups negotiating cease-fire agreements with the government after decades of military conflict have also called for amendments that allow ethnic groups and states greater autonomy.
New year message
Aung San Suu Kyi called on the people of Myanmar to play a more active role in the new year by steering the country towards progress as it emerges from decades of brutal military rule.
"I would like to urge everybody in Myanmar to think seriously about the future of our country — what kind of country you would like to see? What kind of country would you want your children to grow up in?"
"At least once in your lifetime ask yourself what you should do for your country," she said.
Reported by Khin Maung Soe for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Soe. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.