Print options

January 03, 2014

Support Grows in Burma for Constitutional Change

by Gabrielle Paluch

Burma’s current constitution effectively bars Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president, but there are signs that that could change in time for the country’s 2015 national elections as proposals are being floated for amending the constitution to allow the Nobel Peace laureate to run.
 
Burma's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, faces a deadline; in order for her to be able to run for president in elections slated for November 2015, the Burmese parliament must first push through necessary changes to the constitution.
 
This week, key political players voiced support for constitutional amendments but remained vague about exactly what changes they back.
 
The clause that could bar Aung San Suu Kyi's candidacy, 59(f), states that a presidential candidate's spouse, children or children's spouses may not hold foreign citizenship. Aung San Suu Kyi was married to deceased British author Michael Aris, and neither of the couple’s two adult sons have Burmese citizenship.
 
Another clause that would disqualify Suu Kyi requires presidential candidates to have military experience. Women were barred from military service in Burma until only recently.
 
President Thein Sein, who has said he would not seek a second term in office, came out in support of constitutional amendments in state media Thursday, saying a healthy constitution should be able to be changed.
 
Many in Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, have seen Aung San Suu Kyi and her struggle against the former military government as a symbol for hope. Her supporters believe her presidency would be a measure of success for the country’s reform.
 
Ma Mwe was among some 30 protesters who came out in support of the amendments Friday in downtown Rangoon.
 
Ma said that in the 1990 election the Burmese people elected Suu Kyi to become the president of the country, but she was not allowed to become president. Ma said that this is totally against the will of the people in the country and why the constitution needs to be amended.
 
On Monday, the central committee of the ruling USDP party met in Naypyitaw to vote its support of 51 different constitutional amendments, including changes that could allow Aung San Suu Kyi to run.
 
Burma's constitution, approved in a 2008 referendum, requires a 75% majority to be amended; as 25% of the seats in Parliament are reserved for military appointees, any change must get backing from the powerful armed forces. It is at this time unclear if the military lawmakers back the constitutional changes to clear the path for Suu Kyi’s run.
 
In the past, military members of parliament have typically voted as a bloc, said Burma political analyst Richard Horsey.
 
Horsey said that although the president's support of the constitutional changes is a good sign, Thein Sein has no way of guaranteeing an amendment.
 
"We have a consensus among all the key political stakeholders in the country that some sort of constitutional change is required, but that is very far short of a consensus on what clauses need to be changed and what the new language should look like and when this should take place," said Horsey.
 
A number of other proposed constitutional amendments include changing how the chief justice and supreme court judges are chosen, and whether or not they are required to have legal experience. There are also proposals for granting a degree of autonomy to some ethnic groups observing a cease fire with the military.