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Suu Kyi signals threat to boycott 2015 Myanmar elections

Publication Date : 19-12-2013


Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has suggested for the first time that a boycott of the 2015 election may be on the cards unless her demands to amend an "undemocratic" Constitution are heeded.

The 2008 Constitution, which had been drafted by the military regime in power then, essentially bars her from running for president because she married a foreigner. As 25 per cent of the seats in Parliament are reserved for the military, its support is needed for any constitutional changes.

"One should not take part in a competition which was arranged to give one side an advantage," Suu Kyi told a crowd of about 30,000 near Yangon on Sunday.

"There will be no fair elections with the current Constitution... If we join, we will have no dignity in the people's eyes," she added.

Her comments raised the stakes in the 2015 election, which is seen as a critical watershed in Myanmar's democratic transition.

The National League for Democracy leader has been ramping up calls to amend the Constitution.

During her most recent overseas trip, she said in a speech in Sydney on November 27 that armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing in effect decides on whether the Constitution could be amended.

"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 one in an unelected post?"

Her push for constitutional changes is a test for the military, which has tried to carefully calibrate the transition to democracy. Most ministers are former military officers.

In a routine radio address in last month, President Thein Sein, a mild-mannered reformist, had warned against "extreme measures", which many thought referred to demands to change the Constitution.

Earlier in October, the ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party had said that the country and people would be in "serious danger" and would face "consequences beyond expectation" if lawmakers were to rewrite the Constitution.

Influential Parliament Speaker Thura Shwe Mann told reporters the same month that former junta chief Than Shwe, who essentially designed the transition that put President Thein Sein in charge, was no longer involved in politics and was leading "a peaceful life".

But he added cryptically: "The senior general is worried about things that shouldn't happen in today's Burmese politics. He's concerned about the ongoing political process."

On her part, Suu Kyi has been careful to cultivate a relationship with Shwe Mann and adopt a conciliatory attitude towards the powerful military, or Tatmadaw.

She made this clear while speaking to supporters in Yangon last Saturday.

"Our endeavour to amend the Constitution, to take a leadership role in the national politics, does not mean we oppose the Tatmadaw and we would like everyone to know our intention is to unify the Tatmadaw and the public."

Suu Kyi has also engineered what analysts call an alliance of convenience with Shwe Mann, a former top general seen as a rival of Thein Sein.

At the same press conference in October, Shwe Mann, who has presidential ambitions, said: "To have a free and fair election in 2015, I have to say we should amend Section 59F of the Constitution."

Under this section, anyone who has a spouse or children who are foreign citizens is not eligible to run for president or vice-president. In Suu Kyi's case, her late husband was British and their two children are British citizens.

Given that one-quarter of the seats in Parliament are reserved for the military by law, she has often said that in order to amend the Constitution, she would need every opposition vote "plus one soldier".

She is skilful at leveraging her iconic status abroad, and is likely to win support from the international community.

On Sunday, the Financial Times reported that European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels were ready to "encourage an inclusive review process to bring the Constitution in line with the requirements of a modern democracy... allowing all candidates to fairly contest the elections".

However, international support for Suu Kyi may not sit well with the army, said Yangon-based independent analyst Richard Horsey, a former top United Nations official in Myanmar.

"She has to pressure the military, but she also needs the military to help change the Constitution," he said.

"She is pushing as hard as she can, but this could make the military feel under pressure."


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