Suu Kyi makes overture to military

Kyodo

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Wednesday she wants to forge a better relationship with the military establishment to win its cooperation to reform the country’s controversial constitution.

In a lecture to students at the University of Tokyo, the 67-year-old head of the National League for Democracy also called for a free and fair electoral system to be established in her fast-changing country, saying that elections are “the beginning of democracy.”

Suu Kyi said amending the constitution needs approval from more than 75 percent of the 664-member national Parliament, which is dominated by President Thein Sein’s political party and the military.

“What I want to do is to change the constitution in agreement with the military because they also agree that such changes are necessary for the well-being of our country,” she said.

Suu Kyi wants the constitution amended because it currently favors the military, such as by automatically granting 25 percent of the seats in Parliament to the armed forces.

The democratic icon said she is seeking to “establish a society where the military and civilian populations are two faces of the same coin all working towards the security and the freedom of our country.”

She is on a weeklong stay in Japan through Friday, her first visit here in 27 years following more than 14 years of house arrest and detainment by the former military junta, which renamed Burma as Myanmar.

The Foreign Ministry invited the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner to Japan in hopes of strengthening ties with her, as she may someday lead Myanmar, officials said.

Some analysts said Suu Kyi’s political party, which has led the country’s efforts for democratic reform, could take power in parliamentary elections scheduled for 2015.

In her lecture, Suu Kyi urged Japanese students to vote whenever they have the chance, considering how people in many countries have fought for decades for free and fair elections.

“You must understand how precious your right is,” she said. “I’ll be 68 in June and I have never voted in a free and fair election in my life.”

In the Lower House election in December, voter turnout was a record low of less than 60 percent.

One of the purposes of Suu Kyi’s visit was to seek Japan’s support for Myanmar’s democratic process and economic development, which have been under way since its transition to a democratic government in March 2011.

The launch of a nominally civilian government has led the European Union and the United States to lift economic sanctions, and Japan to resume financial aid for the first time in 26 years, attracting investment from businesses around the world.

“What I would like Japan to do is to concentrate on helping the people of Burma rather than the government of Burma,” Suu Kyi said.