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Published: Sunday July 20, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday July 20, 2014 MYT 7:57:49 AM

Suu Kyi for president

Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech to mark Myanmar's 67th anniversary during a Martyrs' Day ceremony at the National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Yangon on July 19, 2014.- AFP

Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech to mark Myanmar's 67th anniversary during a Martyrs' Day ceremony at the National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Yangon on July 19, 2014.- AFP

YANGON: Myanmar’s Opposition has gathered millions of signatures in support of changes to a constitution that bars its leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president, in a show of political strength ahead of elections next year.

Suu Kyi has travelled the country drawing crowds of thousands with speeches urging the military to accept a reduced political role, as her party of democracy veterans touts its moral authority in the former army-run nation. The petition, which was launched in May, had gathered around three million signatures by early July.

“In a democratic country the people’s will is important. That is why this is important,” Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party said.

The campaign, which ended yesterday, is focused on altering a provision that currently ensures the military has a veto on any amendment to the junta-era charter.

To alter the constitution there needs to be support from a majority of over 75% of parliament. Unelected soldiers, who make up a quarter of the legislature, therefore have the last say on changes to the charter.

Nyan Win said he expects the clause to be altered during the current sitting of parliament, which ends later this month, and that this would enable further changes.

While the campaign has generated headlines, experts say it is unclear what effect it will have.

A member of the constitution amendment committee, which like parliament is dominated by the military and ruling army-backed party, said the petition would make no difference to its deliberations.

He said the 31-member group will release its first recommendations in the coming days, but that these are only based on suggestions received before a Decem­ber deadline.

“They should have done this earlier,” he said on condition of anonymity because members have been directed not to reveal their deliberations.

It is believed the committee has already decided not to recommend a change to the controversial provision that currently bars Suu Kyi from becoming president.

Myanmar’s 2008 charter blocks anyone whose spouse or children are overseas citizens from leading the country – a clause widely believed to be targeted at the Nobel laureate, whose two sons are British.

Suu Kyi spent most of two decades locked up under the junta, but now joins former generals in parliament as an MP, thanks to reforms by a quasi-civilian government that took power in 2011. She has urged soldiers to support the petition.

“I would like you all to consider whether getting more opportunities than ordinary citizens is really fair,” she told a rally in Yangon in May, earning a rebuke from the country’s election commission.

Derek Tonkin, a former British ambassador, said Suu Kyi is “desperately disappointed” by the committee’s lack of support and could even consider pulling out of the election if she feels constitution reform falls short.

Washington lent its support to Suu Kyi’s charter change efforts in June, saying reform “should pave the way for the Burmese to freely choose their president”.

But within Myanmar “there is no support for a change to this article” outside the NLD, said independent Myanmar expert Renaud Egreteau.

He said there is an intrinsic wariness of foreign occupation, in a country that gained independence from British rule in 1948 and which has long lived under the shadow of its giant neighbour, China. — AFP

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