Myanmar Parliamentary Panel Against Suu Kyi Vying For President

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi gestures on her arrival in Kathmandu for a four-day official visit to Nepal, June 13, 2014.
A Myanmar parliamentary committee tasked with considering changes to the country’s military-written constitution has decided against amending a clause in the charter that bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming the country’s president, according to panel members Friday.

But Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party said her chances of vying for the country’s number one post in 2015 elections were still alive as there was a possibility of the legislature removing another controversial clause that effectively bars any reform of the charter without full military approval.

The parliamentary committee voted 31-5 to retain Article 59 (F) in the constitution that prevents anyone married to a foreigner or with children of foreign citizenship from becoming president, news reports said, quoting some members of the panel.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s late husband was British, as are her two sons.

The same committee had last month called for an amendment to the constitution’s Article 436, which prescribes that charter amendments require the approval of more than 75 percent of lawmakers.

The constitution was framed in 2008 by the previous military junta.

It gives the armed forces a mandatory 25 percent of parliamentary seats, effectively handing it veto power over any change in the constitution, which requires greater than 75 percent approval, followed by a nationwide referendum.

No reason given

No reason was cited for the decision last week by the committee, which is dominated by members from President Thein Sein’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

“We heard the news that the committee didn’t vote yes for 59 (F) reforms,” NLD spokesperson Nan Khin Htwe Myint told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“But it is not unexpected,” she said. “That’s why we are pushing for reform of Article 436—which is the key provision for any amendment to the 2008 constitution. If we can amend 436, we can easily go after any amendment, including 59 (F),” she said.

Hla Swe, a USDP MP, said amending Article 59 (F) was not an easy task.

“That’s why I said before that I didn’t see that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can become a president,” he said.

Hla Swe claimed that support for amending the controversial clause was “very low.”

Fourteen of the 31 seats in the constitutional review committee are held by the USDP, while the military has seven and the NLD has two. The remaining seats are held by either smaller opposition or ethnic parties.

Final say by parliament

A final resolution on making any changes to the constitution still rests with parliament, which has to debate the committee’s decision.

Any decision is expected to have a major impact on the 2015 general election in which the popular NLD is expected to mount a strong challenge to the ruling USDP.

The NLD and prominent civil society group 88 Generation students have held mass rallies which drew tens of thousands of supporters calling for an amendment to Article 436 and other clauses deemed “undemocratic” in the constitution.

But the USDP, which is largely comprised of former junta generals, has been slow to accept reforms to the charter, and the military is reluctant to give up its political privileges.

Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

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