YANGON – Several dozen activists rallied peacefully in Myanmar’s biggest city Friday to call for changing the constitution to allow pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to serve as president.
The small demonstration in Yangon came as demands have grown louder among politicians and lawmakers for amending the constitution.
The charter was drafted and adopted under the stewardship of Myanmar’s previous military government to ensure that the military retains a major voice in administering the country. The military’s appointed seats constitute a quarter of the total in parliament.
An article in the constitution says anyone whose spouse or children owes allegiance to a foreign power cannot become president or vice president. Suu Kyi was married to the late British scholar Michael Aris, and her two sons are foreign citizens. Critics complain that many other provisions are also undemocratic.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party announced last weekend that it would contest the 2015 general election. It boycotted the 2010 election but successfully contested by-elections in 2012 after electoral reforms were implemented, with Suu Kyi winning a seat in the lower house.
“In every country, wherever it is, all the citizens have the right to elect their president, the ministers and the prime minister as they want because this is for the good of the country,” said the organizer of Friday’s protest, Zaw Win. “But as there are lots of restrictions, we have to come out onto the streets to protest to say that these articles in the constitution are not appropriate for the country.”
Myanmar is a republic whose president is chosen by parliament rather than a direct election. The NLD expects to do well enough in the 2015 polls to offer its own presidential candidate, and Suu Kyi has expressed an interest in running.
Suu Kyi’s party has recently stepped up its calls for constitutional amendments to meet democratic norms. In a speech broadcast on radio Thursday, President Thein Sein said he supports amending the constitution, and that his ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party has suggested changing the clause that bars Suu Kyi from becoming president.
Several other provisions are also under scrutiny for revision, and some proposed changes would strengthen self-government in regions of the country dominated by ethnic minorities. For Western nations that have encouraged Thein Sein’s democratic transition, amendment of the constitution is crucial to lending credibility to the 2015 elections.
Myanmar’s parliament formed a Constitution Review Committee in July last year to recommend changes to the constitution before the 2015 polls. The 109-member committee includes lawmakers from all parties, including Suu Kyi’s and Thein Sein’s, along with the military’s allotted representatives.
The committee is collecting suggestions from individuals, organizations and political parties to be submitted to parliament by the end of January.