Suu Kyi hopeful on ending Myanmar presidency ban

Published Jan 27, 2013 11:21am

Aang San Suu Kyi.—AP Photo

WASHINGTON: Myanmar opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi has voiced confidence that the country's powerful military will support changes to the constitution that would allow her to become president.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who spent most of two decades under house arrest until recent reforms, said she was hopeful that parliament will approve constitutional revisions even though the army controls a vital number of seats.

“I am not unduly worried by it. I think that the members of our military, like the rest of our nation, would like to see Burma a happier, stronger, more harmonious country,” she said, referring to Myanmar by its former name.

“Because of that, I do not rule out the possibility of amendment through negotiated compromise,” Suu Kyi said Friday at the East-West Center on a visit to the US Pacific state of Hawaii.

President Thein Sein, a former general, surprised even critics by launching a slew of reforms after taking office in 2011 – including freeing political prisoners, easing censorship and permitting Suu Kyi to enter parliament.

Thein Sein has said he would accept Suu Kyi as president if her National League for Democracy wins the next elections in 2015, but some activists question whether hardliners would be willing to let the army leave power.

Under the 2008 constitution, the presidency cannot be held by anyone whose spouse or children hold foreign nationality. Suu Kyi was married to the late British academic Michael Aris, with whom she has two children.

“I do not think it is right for any constitution to be written with anybody in mind -- whether it is written to keep anybody in office for life, or whether it is written with the intention of keeping anybody out of office for life,” said Suu Kyi, who has previously voiced willingness to be president.

“It's just not acceptable, it's not democratic, and it's not what a constitution is all about,” she said.

Suu Kyi enjoys respect among some officers, as her father Aung San created the army and led the struggle against British colonial rule.

Suu Kyi also hoped to amend the constitution to recognize the “aspirations” of minorities. Fighting has persisted between the Burman-dominated army and ethnic rebels despite calls by Thein Sein for reconciliation.

“Unless we can meet those aspirations, we can never hope to build a true and lasting union based on peace and harmony,” she said.

Suu Kyi was visiting Hawaii as part of an initiative by the US state to share its values. In a scene that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, Suu Kyi spoke fondly about dining with friends on Honolulu's sun-kissed Waikiki beach.

Suu Kyi has toured Europe and North America since her release from house arrest. US President Barack Obama paid a landmark visit to Myanmar in November, hoping to encouraging reforms.

Myanmar's foreign ministry on Saturday criticized the United States for raising concerns over unabated fighting in northern Kachin state, where tens of thousands of people have been displaced since June 2011.

The statement also said Myanmar “strongly objects” to the use of the name Burma by the United States, urging the two nations to avoid actions that could go against “mutual respect.”

But Suu Kyi vigorously defended calling her country Burma in English, saying that the name Myanmar was imposed by the military leadership.

“The assertion that we have to get rid of the name because it was a colonial legacy I find narrow, and I think it reflects lack of self-confidence rather than anything else,” she said.

Suu Kyi noted that Japan, China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines also used names that were legacies from foreigners.

“It's not the name that makes the country; it's the country that makes the name,” she said.


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