Myanmar’s opposition party hasn’t given up hope of another one of its members becoming president should it win general elections later this year, despite last week’s rejection by lawmakers of constitutional amendments that would have allowed party leader Aung San Suu Kyi seek the country’s top political office.
Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party pushed for changes to Article 436, which would have lowered the share of parliamentary votes required to approve charter reform to 70 percent from more than 75 percent.
The change would have limited the veto power of military lawmakers who are guaranteed a quarter of legislative seats through appointment under the country’s current constitution, written in 2008 under the former junta regime that ruled the country for almost five decades.
But the bill received only 66.55 percent of votes in favor, falling short of the 75 percent required for passage.
Parliament also voted down a proposed change to Article 59(f) of the constitution, which would have changed eligibility requirements that effectively bar Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president should the NLD win the next general elections in November, as expected. The foreign nationality of her two sons makes her ineligible to serve as president under current law.
Although the defeat has left the NLD chairwoman fewer options for becoming president, the NLD remains optimistic about its ability to take power from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and have one of its own as the country's top leader.
Win Htein, a senior NLD staffer, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that Aung San Suu Kyi believes there are alternative ways to amend the constitution through parliament.
He suggested another campaign to collect signatures in support of constitutional change, as the party did last year when the NLD along with the 88 Generation students group collected the signatures of 5 million people—10 percent of Myanmar’s population—who were in favor of amending Article 436.
“We don’t recommend taking to the streets in protest,” he said. “We want to do something like doing signature campaigns together with 88 Generation student group like we did before. We will also do some activities to amend the constitution by following Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership.”
Nevertheless, some students and passersby in downtown Yangon staged a peaceful protest on their own on Tuesday, demanding the removal of reserved military seats in parliament in light of the defeat of the proposed charter changes.
Contesting the general elections
Furthermore, the NLD also hasn’t made a final decision on contesting the general elections to be held in November, Win Htein said.
“I think that we can decide whether we will contest the election or not when we are sure when we are sure this election would be a fair one,” he said.
Win Htein added that the NLD had not yet discussed with the country’s minority ethnic political parties about possibly contesting the elections in their regions, but will do so if necessary.
“Every organization has a plan A and a plan B,” he said. “We shouldn’t say what our plan is now. You will know when the right time comes.”
Still, Win Htein didn’t shed any light on another possible presidential candidate from the party.
The NLD would need to win a total of 334 seats in parliament—221 of the 440 seats in the lower house of parliament, and 113 of the 224 seats in the upper house— to assume power, said prominent lawyer Ko Ni.
At present, military lawmakers hold 110 seats in the lower house, leaving 330 seats for elected lawmakers.
“The NLD can win in seven divisions where the majority of Myanmar citizens live, but it would be difficult for it to win in the states,” Ko Ni said. “People in ethnic areas will vote for their ethnic parties. We have seen that it’s not easy for the NLD to have 221 places in the lower house, and more difficult in upper house.”
He said that because only three groups would have members in parliament after the election—NLD, Union Solidarity and Development Party and ethnic parties—no single group would be able to form a government.
In that case, the NLD would have to join forces with ethnic parties if it wants to form a government, he said.
“If so, the person who Aung San Suu Kyi wants could be president even if she herself can’t be president,” Ko Ni said. “At least, the NLD will have a government with a president. Then, that government could amend the constitution within its term, and it could do something about Aung San Suu Kyi becoming president.”
Reported by Tin Aung Khine and Thinn Thiri of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.