YANGON (AFP) – Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party admitted Wednesday it cannot win its fight to change a constitution that bars her from Myanmar’s presidency, following a parliamentary decision to postpone amendments until after 2015 elections.
Nyan Win, spokesman for her National League for Democracy, said an effective army veto in parliament meant the NLD would not prevail in its efforts to overhaul the charter during an ongoing debate in the legislature.
Parliamentary representatives of the powerful military have lined up during the debate to voice opposition to major change.
“Calculate the ratio mathematically. We cannot win (the fight to change key sections of the constitution),” he told AFP, listing both the clause that bars Suu Kyi and the one that gives the military the final say on amendments.
“So why are we working for it? Because we believe in democracy,” he added, in some of the party’s most downbeat remarks on a constitution which many believe was specifically designed to thwart Suu Kyi’s political rise.
Legislators will choose a new president after a general election in November 2015. The party of the veteran democracy campaigner is expected to win the general election if polls are free and fair.
But Suu Kyi cannot stand for the top post because a clause in the constitution, 59f, bans those with a foreign spouse or children. Her late husband and two sons are British.
Parliament speaker Shwe Mann said Tuesday a referendum would be held next May on any charter amendments approved by parliament after the current heated debate in the capital Naypyidaw. He said it would be impossible to implement any constitutional changes until after next year’s election, which is seen as a test of the country’s transition from outright military rule that began in 2011.
US President Barack Obama last week raised concerns about clause 59f, saying “the amendment process needs to reflect inclusion rather than exclusion”.
Members of the powerful military make up a quarter of Myanmar’s parliament under provisions in the 2008 constitution, which was drawn up by the then-junta as it kept critics and opposition activists locked up.
A vote to change the key points of the charter requires a more than 75 per cent majority – thereby giving the army contingent the last say.
And observers say the military is very reluctant to loosen its grip, despite a recent unprecedented meeting between the army chief, Suu Kyi, the president and other key political figures.
Myanmar scholar Renaud Egreteau said the army sees preservation of the constitution as its “core task in state politics”.
Myanmar has emerged from isolation in the last three years, earning international praise for its reforms and the removal of most sanctions.
The quasi-civilian leadership, which remains dominated by former generals, has freed most political prisoners, allowed Suu Kyi and her party into parliament and ended to draconian media censorship.
But last week Obama added his voice to concerns that its transition is backsliding in certain areas, including press freedom and human rights.